Following two much beloved records on the indie label Wichita, Stay Gold is Klara and Johanna Söderberg’s first major label release. The album was recorded at Conor Oberst’s ARC Studios out in Omaha with Oberst’s Bright Eyes buddy Mike Mogis in the producer’s chair. He produced the band’s previously album, 2012’s The Lion’s Roar, the biggest difference between Stay Gold and The Lion’s Roar being that a 13 piece orchestra accompanies the duo on this outing, giving their songs added depth and emotion.
The album opens with a galloping, old-style Country Western song in the form of “My Silver Lining,” which finds the sister’s singing, “I won’t take the easy road.” No, they’re fierce and determined to fight, this opening song being a manifesto that paves the way for the rest of the album by slashing away anything that gets in its path. “Showing them my silver lining / I try to keep on keeping on,” goes the call and response ending of the tune.
“No gold can stay,” the Söderberg sisters sing during “Stay Gold,” which will have any child of the ’80’s thinking of the film adaptation of the classic American novel The Outsiders, particularly that line late in the film, “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.” But it would seem this song is more about the sister’s personal fears and ambitions. “What if to love and be loved’s not enough / What if I fall and can’t bare to get up / Oh I wish for once, could stay gold / Could stay gold.” Although I would not call any of the sister’s songs inaccessible, I would say that this is one of their most accessible, as it conveys worries we all experience at some point in our lives.
“Master Pretender” is basically about pretending to be things you now realize you’re not. Pretending to have strengths when you actually have weaknesses. “Oh, I’m a master pretender,” they sing. During one part of the song they sing, ” “I always thought that you’d be here / But shit gets fucked up / People just disappear.” It’s the one part of the song where they refer to someone besides themselves. Of this person who’s not there, they sing, “I’ll Be Your Master Defender.”
On the especially mellow “Cedar Lane,” it would seem they *want* someone to leave, to just disappear. “I’m never looking for you / You’ll find me all the same,” goes part of the first verse. It’s just one example of the clever lyrics that populate the album. The chorus packs an even better one: “I remember how you used to say / ‘something good will come out of this.’”
When First Aid Kit started out, their music was more in the folk vein and you could kind of tell that they weren’t from the States if you really listened to the vocals. Now, things have changed. They’ve clearly listened to our country greats and have been influenced by them. There’s still a distinct folk element to their songs, but there’s also an American country music vibe running through them. And not just any old American country vibe. They’re striving to make the good stuff, the classic country music, like Emmylou Harris and June Carter Cash, two artists they name checked on their last album. Who would have thought we’d have to look to Sweden to hear new music in that classic American country vein? If only country artists in the States were making songs like these. Instead, well, don’t get me started about everything that’s wrong with our country music today. Let’s just say that I’d rather listen to Willie Nelson than Blake Shelton. And I’m quite certain that the Söderberg sisters would agree.