earthings! 2018: My ten favorites of the year

It’s our very last post for 2018, which means it’s time to reveal my ten favorite songs of the year – although chances are, if you’ve been reading this blog more religiously than most, or have a good idea of what I am into, then you’d have guessed some of the songs on this list. For this year, I decided not to have a massive reckoning some time from the beginning of December (too much pressure, that) but instead made up this list as the year went along. It didn’t make it easier: the tenth song (again, this list is in alphabetical order) was added just a few days ago, and that was a song I actually took off the list. I won’t tell you what that is… [NB]

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Review: Tender Offerings by First Aid Kit

Tender Offerings by First Aid KitTender Offerings is a four-song EP composed of tracks from the same sessions as First Aid Kit’s last album, Ruins, which they scrapped for one reason or another. Listening to it, you understand why. Ruins continued the Söderberg sisters’ evolution, down the Americana lane, but with edges more polished: more flexible, more marketable, and oddly, somehow still able to hold the vocal harmonies that made them popular in the first place. This EP, on the other hand, feels like a throwback, at least back to their The Lion’s Roar years, which means we get the best of both worlds: this feels a bit polished, yes, but a bit grittier, too. As such, the heartbreak on the songs here feel much more painful, particularly on “Ugly”, which builds across the song and packing a punch only First Aid Kit can deliver. Tender Offerings is not a throwaway EP, but more of a companion piece: as a gauge with which to measure the girls’ evolution as artists, it’s indispensable. And good songs, too, albeit from a slightly alternate universe. [NB]4/5

Review: Ruins by First Aid Kit

Ruins by First Aid KitBy now you know you can’t really go wrong with the Soderberg sisters, and with the release of Ruins, First Aid Kit continues exploring (and mining) their influences and their career trajectory. The record still has the sisters harmonizing oh-so-nicely, while going (a bit) deeper into the Americana sound they have adopted since 2012’s The Lion’s Roar. But with the slight change of atmosphere – the record was produced in Portland, OR, with the help of Tucker Martine – comes a polishing of the grit, a sanding off of the edges, and the keen will notice a change in their sound, for better or worse. I particularly enjoyed how the duo’s pastoral nature crept through even in their later albums: now it’s all shiny and it feels like something’s missing. But the approach also allows them to push their sound further, particularly on “Hem of Her Dress”, whose on-the-spot sound (and the rare cracking yelp) gives an unexpected oomph to an otherwise comfortable album. Also, any nitpicking vanishes once Klara and Johanna sing, together or individually: despite the shine, Ruins is not First Aid Kit selling out, but rather pushing on, still with that subtle, niggling heartbreak. Also, I must note how beautiful and hopeless Klara’s very last line on “Fireworks” feels. [NB]4/5

earthings! 2014: My ten favorites of the year

earthings! 2014

Yep, another list of my ten favorite songs of the year. And it’s just that: my ten favorites of the year. While there is an attempt to weave what is clearly a very personal list into some narrative defining the past year, it will most likely not work as much as it should. That said, there were a lot of interesting songs in the past twelve months, and some of my favorite acts went back with some new bits, too. People went quiet; people went retro; people went organic. So there’s that. I don’t know about you, but this is my year in music, sorted in alphabetical order, although you’re likely to guess what I’m biased towards… that’s just the whole nature of it, yes? We’ll be on a two-week holiday break, and we’ll be back with new entries on 5 January. Hopefully. And now, the list. [NB]

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Review: Stay Gold by First Aid Kit

Stay Gold by First Aid KitStay Gold is pretty much a departure from First Aid Kit’s first two albums. Sure, the Söderberg sisters continue their journey down Americana sounds, but this time they’ve let go of most of the delicate prettiness that defined them – save for the more prominent strings – and jumped head first into a world of foot-stomping. No, they haven’t gone Mumford & Sons on us. In fact, Stay Gold is a smart way to move things: they’ve established goodwill, and now, with the help of returning producer Mike Mogis, they’re marking their territory, while looking like they’re just having fun. The ten tracks are less grim and more anthemic; there’s a sharper edge to Klara and Johanna’s harmonies and lyrics. (Also, Johanna’s a much bigger presence in this album.) The sunshine on tracks like “Cedar Lane” and “The Bell” is still wrapped with a sense of uncertainty. And then you hit “Heaven Knows” – it’s the closest they’ll get to a country track, for now, and you meet it without resistance. It’s like they’ve earned it. Sometimes the album goes a bit too far – “Fleeting One” struck me as a bit overproduced – but Stay Gold does what it set out to do well: it is a declaration that First Aid Kit is here to stay. And staying, they most definitely are. [NB] | 4/5