First Aid Kit – Ruins

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First Aid Kit are the sort of band that Donald Trump would like to see migrating to the US. The Söderberg sisters are from Sweden, which is quite close to Norway. They already sing in an American accent and they deliver the sort of advert-friendly music that wouldn’t be out of place during Fox & Friends. In fact, when ‘My Silver Lining’ comes on the airwaves, it’s difficult to think of anything but a Renault Kadjar. Or is it a Volvo XC60? Whatever. Anyway, First Aid Kit’s previous album Stay Gold was produced by the former boy genius and now just genius, Conor Oberst. This time they’re produced by Tucker Martine. Or Mr Laura Veirs as he’s known on this site. He’s one of the best producers in the business. As you would expect, the sound is beautifully crisp, but the style is slightly more genteel. You’d think that a song called ‘My Wild Sweet Love’ would jump out of the speakers and say Take Me Now! Instead, it sort of peers around the corner slightly coyly and hopes that you’ll notice. But this is still the first-best album of 2018 and it’s sure to remain in the memory ’til the year’s end. There are some wonderful moments. The tempo change at 3:32 of ‘Rebel Heart’, the point when Johanna takes over the vocals from Klara on ‘Fireworks’, the joyful ending of ‘Hem Of Her Dress’. First Aid Kit are the sort of band that Donald Trump would like if he had any sense. He doesn’t. Which allows the rest of us to sit back and enjoy the sumptuous music of the Söderberg sisters.

 

This is a time of looking forward. To the familiar artists that will return. To the new artists that will be discovered. This year, like any other, comes with a wish list. Some albums will never materialise. Others will slightly disappoint. A few will remain life-long friends. Fingers crossed for the latter. In no particular order, apart from alphabetical, my 2018 wish list includes new releases by Alela Diane, Anäis Mitchell, Bill Callahan, Caitlin Harnett, Cat Power, East River Pipe, Field Report, First Aid Kit, Jacob Golden, Jenny Lewis, Jessica Pratt, Jim White, Jonathan Wilson, Laura Veirs, Lewis & Clarke, Pearl Charles, Phosphorescent, Pinegrove, Richard Edwards, The Delines, Vetiver, Wooden Shjips, Wye Oak and the artist formerly known as Young Man.

And yet, there is a special place in the 2018 wish list for a new album by Kramies (pronunciation to be determined). With rumours going back at least a couple of decades, there are unconfirmed reports that an album is finally on its way and that Ireland had some part to play in it. We wait with fingers crossed, though we have learned not to hold our breath. The hard way. In the meantime, here’s a wonderful feature by Shon Cobbs and his Behind The Scenes colleagues from Denver. It features Kramies answering questions and sometimes asking them too. Plus a lot of laughing.

Happy New Year. Surely, 2017 can only be better than 2016. But who knows at the moment? What’s for sure is that music will always be a comfort. In that spirit, highly anticipated 2017 releases include confirmed albums from Elbow, Fleet Foxes, Foxygen, Grandaddy, Grizzly Bear, Horse Thief, Nadia Reid, Nikki Lane, Real Estate, Ryan Adams, The Shins, Son Volt, Strand of Oaks, and Sun Kil Moon. And then there’s always the H-LM wish list. This year, it includes Adrian Crowley, Alela Diane, Anaïs Mitchell, Bill Callahan, David Vandervelde, Feist, Field Report, Fionn Regan, First Aid Kit, Israel Nash, Jason Isbell, Jim White, Laura Veirs, Lewis & Clarke, Noah Gunderson, and Phosphorescent. Mind you, some of these artists were on my wish list this time last year. So, fingers are tightly crossed. Whatever happens, let’s start the new year with some good news. Word is in that Kramies is recording new demos. I can’t wait to hear the end result. In the meantime, here’s Kramies (feat. Jason Lytle) with ‘Clocks Were All Broken’.

Part 2 of the year’s best albums. We’re counting down in reverse order.

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

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The Söderberg sisters have voices made in heaven. But is everything tickety-boo in their Swedish paradise on earth? Last time, the Lion Roared. This time, it expressed more than a little self doubt. Perhaps it was the influence of that Conor Oberst chap. More of him next time.

Miranda Lambert – Platinum

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The songs were no more spontaneous than the cover photo. But the lyrics were genuinely amusing at times. And there was a greater confidence to the song-writing than before. Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s artificial. It’s the CMA’s best album of the year for goodness sake. But don’t hold that against it. Too much.

The Delines – Colfax

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The Delines did not win anything at the CMAs. Late night stories of relationships gone bad long ago. Jobs that are barely worth the name. And all told against the background of a mournful guitar. This was Willy Vlautin in a different incarnation, but still at the top of his game.

Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread

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Rosanne Cash took us on a very personal journey. Memories tinged with all sorts of emotions. But the highlight was the playing, which was, unsurprisingly, top notch. And ‘A Feather’s Not A Bird’ was one of the year’s great songs.

Field Report – Marigolden

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Field Report tell serious stories. And they tell them very slowly and deliberately. All of which should be a real downer. But no. Chris Porterfield and Co. wrap the stories up in lovely melodies. And this time, they added a little hint of electronic jiggery-pokery to their more traditional Americana.

In the dog days of summer, new releases are hard to find and good ones even scarcer. So, this is a chance to catch up some albums that really should have been reviewed.

Honeyblood

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EHL – 1 month

There’s a definite riot grrrl thing going on here. Just drums, guitar and vocals. This is serious Glasgow girl power. “I will hate you forever, Scumbag, sleaze, Slimeball, grease, You really do disgust me”. But this is no nostalgia trip, or musical equivalent of an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. This is an album full of fantastic hooks. And on songs like ‘(I’d Rather Be) Anywhere But Here’, ‘Biro’, and ‘Choker’, the vocals by Stine Tweeddale are utterly mesmerizing.

NME review

The Line of Best Fit review

The 405 review

Pitchfork review

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

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EHL – 3 weeks

The Söderberg sisters experience a certain crisis of conscience on their follow up to the The Lion’s Roar. Low key. Reflective. Doubtful. Well, it was recorded in Omaha by Bright Eyes’ producer, Mike Mogis. But, don’t worry, Johanna and Klara haven’t invented a new genre of emo-folk. This is still First Aid Kit at their uplifting, anthemic best.

Pitchfork review

Music OMH review

The Line of Best Fit review

American Songwriter review

Horse Thief – Fear In Bliss

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EHL – 3 weeks

More beautiful bardology from the Bella Union label. This time from new signing, Horse Thief. Packed full of indie-guitar hooks, there’s an infectiousness to the sound. Plus, there’s the first ever song to begin with the line ‘I want to be a Human Geographer’. Physical geographers have apparently taken umbrage.

The 405 review

The Line of Best Fit review

Music OMH review

Wooden Wand – Farmer’s Corner

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EHL – 3 weeks

This is perhaps the closest James Jackson Toth will ever come to a mainstream album. Darn if ‘Sinking Feelings’ don’t sound like ‘Pocahontas’. And both ‘Dambuilding’ and ‘When The Trail Goes Cold’ are instant Harvest-era classics. But this is still a Wooden Wand album. It’s scarcely prime time listening. And that’s the very appeal.

The Line of Best Fit review

Pitchfork review

Pop Matters review

The Black Keys – Turn Blue

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EHL – 2 weeks

The Black Keys are an easy target. Global success has ensured that. Yet they’re still worth a dispassionate listen. While they could have delivered another album full of T-Rex-influenced, three-minute earworms, they’re confident enough to take a step back and slow things down. The opener, ‘Weight of Love’, is a particular favourite in that regard.

Music OMH review

Pretty Much Amazing review

Consequence of Sound review

Here are my 6th-10th favourite releases of 2012, in no particular order:

Grizzly Bear – Shields

How do you follow an album like Veckatimest? The answer. Don’t record anything for a while and then try to scale things back a little when you do. The strategy worked. Shields wasn’t quite the tour de force of its predecessor, but it still contained some great songs with ‘Sleeping Ute’ probably the best of the lot. Better than that, it contained some sublime moments that only Grizzly Bear can conjure up. When the chorus kicks in on ‘Yet Again’, there’s only one band you can be listening to. There’s no bigger compliment.

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Anais Mitchell – Young Man in America

Anais Mitchell also faced the ‘how do you follow that’ syndrome. Her previous release, Hadestown, was truly unique. With some help from Bon Iver and others, she retold a version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, setting it in Depression-era US. On this album, she reverted to the individual-song format, but more than one told its own story. The title track itself was a version of the Great American Novel. And when the protagonist of ‘Shepherd’ loses his pregnant wife, there’s not a dry eye in the house.

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Band of Horses – Mirage Rock

Band of Horses are bad boys, aren’t they? They have the tattoos, the bad teeth, and they always look like they’ve just got out of bed. So they’re best when they rock out, right? Wrong. It’s when they slow down that they’re at their best. ‘Slow Cruel Hands of Time’ is an old theme, but it’s told beautifully. ‘Long Vows’ and ‘Heartbreak on the 101’ likewise. And why did they ever leave ‘Reilly’s Dream’ off the main album? It’s as good as ‘Detlef Schrempf’ and, to Horseheads, that’s saying something.

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

Swedish AM-friendly country rock. On paper, that’s not a great combination. But, two things make this record stand out. One, the songs are really strong. Two, boy, can these guys sing? The Söderberg sisters make Crosby, Stills and Nash sound like a bunch of old hippies. Oh, hang on. Anyhow, a good rule of thumb is that if a song sound timeless, then it probably is. And the ones on this album sound like they’ve already been around for a very long while.

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Paul Buchanan – Mid Air

Paul Buchanan’s most recent collection of musical pointillism was beautifully executed. Neo-impressionistic pictures of life at its most ordinary, combining to form an experience that was at once melancholy and uplifting. Only the slightest orchestration. Mainly just the singer, a piano, and some affecting melodies. It was as much the delivery of the songs as the songs themselves that made this such a rewarding listen.

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

A sign of a great album is that you feel you’ve heard all the songs before. They’re familiar, but fresh. They’re easy to get into your head, because they’re familiar. But they stay in your head, because they complement the sounds that are already there. A sign of a bad album is that you feel you’ve heard all the songs before. They’re familiar, but derivative. As soon as you’ve heard them, you forget them. At best, they might make you want to return to the original, but if they do then it’s at the expense of the copy. The Lion’s Roar makes you feel you’ve heard all the songs before. And it’s a great album. It’s clearly coming from a certain place. ‘Emmylou’ gives you a clue, but, as if that wasn’t enough, it name checks Gram and Johnny and June as well. But this is no Elite Hotel 2. No Return of the Grievous Angel. The songs might be inspired by a sound past, but the spirit is new. The harmonies soar. And sometimes they transcend. Near the end of ‘Dance to Another Tune’, the song just takes off in a different, wonderful direction. Sure, there’s a familiarity to The Lion’s Roar. But in a good way, creating its own precedent that others will want to follow.

First Aid Kit – Official website