The last we heard from Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit was via 2018’s Ruins, a heartbroken, devastatingly beautiful meditation on the process of moving on. On Friday, November 4th, sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg will return with Palomino, a fittingly optimistic-sounding response to the misery of its predecessor.
“We’ve been making music for 15 years, and we love our folky, strummy guitars and pedal steel, but we thought it was fun to try something else,” Johanna tells Consequence over Zoom. “[It was] mostly for ourselves. That’s why we gravitated towards these synths and kind of a slicker sound.”
The first singles from the project immediately signaled this tonal shift. The anthemic “Out of My Head” sounded more akin to Fleetwood Mac or ‘80s power ballads than it did to their usual folk touchstones like Gram Parsons or Leonard Cohen. “Angel” might as well have been a lost track from George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and “A Feeling That Never Came” taps into the same simplistic, uplifted melancholy that artists like Bill Callahan do so well.
Even the cover art marked the newfound positivity. Where Ruins depicts Johanna and Klara in moody, straight-forward black and white, Palomino is bright, colorful, and full of life. In fact, just about everything relating to the record is seemingly as happy and carefree as the duo has ever been – except for the lyrics, that is.
“It’s a little deceiving, I’d say, because a lot of the lyrics are still pretty dark. But it sounds a lot happier,” Klara says of the record. “We just wanted this whole recording process and everything to be positive, and trying to write happier songs. Although, they’re pretty sad still. If you actually really read the lyrics they’re deceiving in that way,” Johanna adds.
As the saying goes, you can take First Aid Kit out of downtrodden folk, but you can’t take the downtrodden folk out of First Aid Kit… or something like that. Even as they embrace the sonics of ‘70s and ‘80s pop, the stories lying underneath tell tales of failed love, depressive feelings, and holding on too tightly to the past.
Take “Wild Horses II,” a beautifully sung tune embellished with horns and strings. The melody isn’t overtly sad, nor is the instrumentation, but reading into the lyrics reveals two lovers growing apart as evidenced by their preference for different versions of “Wild Horses.” “You know I can’t let you slide through my hands/ You prefer the Rolling Stones but I like Gram’s.”
It’s this tonal juxtaposition that places Palomino among First Aid Kit’s best work. Not only are they diversifying their stylistic pallet, but by doing so, they’ve hit upon a new form of emotional songwriting. It’s the same formula Pixar has been capitalizing on for decades: fusing the yellow of happiness with the blue of sadness to create a green sense of catharsis.
For similar reasons, the new crop of tunes may prove to be some of First Aid Kit’s most enthralling when performed live. While the duo has always considered themselves at their peak artistically during a performance, the elevated energy and sing-a-long potential of Palomino’s songs are undeniable.
“I think that’s how our songs work best. I do really think like we’re a live band,” Johanna tells Consequence. “No offense to the record, but I think [playing] live is just a completely different thing, and I think that interaction is what we live for.”
Fortunately for any North American fans who missed them during their recent run with Lord Huron, Johanna and Klara promise they’ll be back to play the new songs sooner than later. For now, while fans wait for a tour announcement, we have Palomino in all of its deceptively poignant glory. And with the emotional depth it has to offer, that should tide us over for quite a while.
Above, check out the full First Aid Kit interview, where they discuss Palomino, their relationship as siblings, 10 years of their second album Lion’s Roar (released in January 2012), and more.
Trouble watching in the player above? Check out the interview on YouTube.