With their latest album, Palomino, Johanna and Klara Söderberg, aka First Aid Kit, again share their irresistible voices and impeccable harmonies. Supporting musicians offer an array of percussion, strings, synths, and textural complements, the project unfurling as the duo’s most pop-adherent and lavishly rendered sequence to date.
Catchy opener “Out of My Head” launches with a spacious verse before cascading into a drums-led, foot-stomping chorus that borrows as much from rock-tinged country à la Plains’ recent release, I Walked With You a Ways, as from beat-driven electropop, including the music of Danish artist MØ. The hook-filled “Angel” revolves thematically around the line “I’ve been afraid all of my life” but unfolds amid snappy percussion, buoyant acoustics, and lush synths, the track’s lyrical gravitas offset by shimmery tones.
“Ready to Run” addresses the inevitability of loneliness and how we engage the imagination to contend with it. Vocals, meanwhile, are brightly recorded, a sunny blend of piano and strings conjuring an optimistic vibe. “Wild Horses II” employs a more traditionally folk and stripped-down context. Melancholic vocals are strategically dabbed with chorus and reverb and accented by organ and string sounds, resulting in a pensive yet bouncy mix.
Occasionally Daniel Bengtson’s production approaches seem heavy-handed or anachronistic, a tendency largely avoided by Mike Mogis on 2014’s Stay Gold and Tucker Martine on 2018’s Ruins. Schmaltzy strings on “Nobody Knows,” for example, undermine an otherwise sultry gestalt, the song as a whole unnecessarily glossy. “29 Palms Highway” points to the Söderbergs’ appreciation for nature and the fundamentals of melody; overly treated back-up vocals and airbrushed synths, however, detract from their natural charm and the song’s alluring melody.
That said, Palomino certainly contains its share of memorable moments, effectively highlighting the sisters’ charisma and straightforward yet winning songcraft. Ultimately, Palomino may serve as a “bridge” foray, an intriguing iteration that nudges the Söderbergs one step closer to the sonic grail they’ve been seeking.
First Aid Kit’s Palomino is out Nov. 4 on Columbia Records.