First Aid Kit- The Lion's Roar
First Aid Kit are Klara and Johanna Söderberg, a pair of genetically engineered super-clone-musicians created by Sweden in some convoluted, super-villain scheme to slowly take over the worlds Folk music scene from the inside, leaving nothing but biologically superior, soulless monsters in their wake. This is the only way I have been able to explain the sickening perfection of The Lions Roar: it's sheer perfectness, in both songwriting and performance, leaves no doubts that this pair of Swedish Sirens strumming out thoughtful, catchy Americana must be part some sort of nefarious plot. I just do not think it possible of a normal human with normal abilities to produce something so god damn flawless in so many ways... The Lion's Roar is as frightening as it is beautiful.
The Lion's Roar is nothing if not precise and effortless: the Söderberg sisters have effectively melded the sounds of classic 60's Folk of Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel and Joan Baez with the more modern, Indie Rock/Pop influenced Alt-Country of Jenny Lewis and later Neko Case into ten tracks of total musical perfection. Not a single note is ever found out of a place, a single hook left unused or a single melody left unfinished: methodical yes, but just organic enough to feel real. Which makes The Lion's Roar all that more deadly and utterly addicting. I've spun The Lion's Roar two dozen times since I bought it, and still I return to it for it's infectious hooks, beautiful instrumentation and textbook Folk/Pop compositions: like musical Crack, I'm ready to break out a car window for a fix.
And then there are the vocals.
There are no doubts about it: the Söderberg sisters have two of the best voices you will ever hear, as well as absolutely stunning harmonies(which goes a long way to reinforcing my "genetically engineered super-clone" theory). It's... well, it's scary. In modern music, there are two kinds of "perfect": the perfect that comes from a studio(pretty much everything) and the real, tangible perfect, and the Söderberg sisters fit nicely into the latter category: the production does only enough for their voices to soar above the compositions like the healing songs of Angels. Again, sickeningly perfect.
The Söderberg sisters deftly move around various sub-genres, giving The Lion's Roar a sort of grab-bag feel. The title track is bombastic, rhythmically explosive combination of Folk Rock and Alt-Country, featuring gorgeously layered compositions that revel's in the variety of instruments while staying largely conformed to accessible song structure, which in the case of this particular genre is once again perfect. "Emmylou" is easily the song of the year: the song spreads like a particularly virulent contagion within your hapless skull, sounding like Simon and Garfunkel on a trip through the country with Emmylou Harris(no doubt she was a major influence on the band). Meanwhile, tracks like "Blue" and the finale "King of the World" feel decidedly more modern, drawing heavy influence from Jenny Lewis, Emmy the Great and Bright Eyes: it shouldn't be a surprise that Conor Oberst does a guest vocal spot on "King of the World," a jaunty, Pop-infused slice of Bluegrass meets Indie Rock, completely with another shockingly catchy chorus that will burrow into your brain-stem like a parasite and refuse to leave.
So we have established that The Lion's Roar is perfect, in almost every way, and that it is a musical equivalent to brutal drug addiction. It's basically a moderately effective substitute for sex: Album of the Year, case closed right?
No. Truth is, The Lion's Roar is a victim of it's own perfection.
The very best Folk albums of the previous decade: Our Endless Numbered Days, The Wild Hunt EP, For Emma, Forever Ago, all possessed a uniquely unpolished, raw emotional energy to them, energy that can only come from a strong understanding of the human condition. By comparison, The Lion's Roar is a little on the sterile side: not plastic, just devoid of intensity. Folk music are stories about imperfect people, and that super-clone like flawlessness of The Lion's Roar is and odd dynamic.
I'm ok with this: The Lion's Roar is incredible for what it is, and without a doubt the most listenable album of 2012. It's forty-two minutes of perfection, and that is something you so rarely hear. It just happens to be the wrong genre for this level of inhuman efficiency. The Lion's Roar sounds like it was made by musical versions of Captain America, not a regular, unspectacular person with a story to tell.