The U.S.A. is a mirage-like beacon for people around the world; one which holds an almost mythical appeal which is often unnoticed by its residents. But not to outsiders. It might in part explain why in the ’90s, Rolling Stone once opined that America’s best band was Canadian (Blue Rodeo). Or why perhaps the best “Americana” act going these days is not even from the same continent! “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all come to look for America,” as Simon & Garfunkel once sang. Little surprise that Sweden’s First Aid Kit chose that to be one of their signature tunes. The Swede sisters began to hit it big five years ago with their third album, Stay Gold, released here this day in 2014.
The Soderberg sisters had become stars at home in Sweden about six years earlier, initially through homemade Youtube videos. A couple of well-received albums at home had built their following and gotten them noticed at least in Britain. With a record deal with Columbia, worldwide publicity and distribution followed, beginning with Stay Gold. While it carried on where the first records left off – folksy guitar-based tunes with strong melodies and great harmonies from Klara and Johanna – this one added in a fuller sound and better production values courtesy the bigger budget and more adventurous producing from Bright Eyes’ Mike Magis who played everything from banjo to dulcimer himself to back the girls and their guitars but also brought in a full orchestral string section for several songs, including the title track and “Cedar Lane”, a song the Guardian labeled their “finest moment.” Strong melodies, simple arrangements and lyrics of promised lands and loves lost could have just as easily originated from Tom Petty or Neil Young as a pair of young Swedish women, which helped explain the record’s appeal.
While it went platinum and to #1 in their homeland, as the previous album had, it also ran up to #11 in the UK, #18 in Canada, and #23 in the U.S. they sounded a part of (and where it was recorded, in Omaha of all places, adding to its Heartland authenticity.) All were significant improvements in sales over their small-label predecessors. The lilting “My Silver Lining” became their third top 40 hit in their homeland and the first to get notable airplay in North America, hitting #22 on Adult Contemporary radio in the States.
Critics (as well as yours truly here at A Sound Day) generally loved the album. Many gave it about an 80% rating. For instance, Spin and the NME each gave it 8/10; Q and Britain’s The Guardian each rated it 4-stars (out of 5.) The NME were surprised that “even the big old Columbia paycheque can’t bring a smile to the duo’s faces” but that was a “blessing for fans of lush, melodic symphonic emoting.” Rolling Stone called it “sublime drifter poetry” and suggested they “blossomed into an excellent indie-country act,”
Among the fans of Stay Gold was Peter Buck of R.E.M. who helped out on their 2018 album, Ruins which sold a little better still in North America. Currently the duo appear to be on a bit of a hiatus, perhaps because Johanna had a baby in 2020. However, they did put out a new album quite recently, Who By Fire, a recording of a concert they played in 2017 honoring Leonard Cohen.