February Music Review – First Aid Kit, Shearwater, Anais Mitchell and Band of Skulls

We're a bit rushed this weekend for various reasons, so short sharp reviews today, but a varied and strong bunch of new releases to tell you about. Depending of course on your tastes, all 4 are strongly recommended.

First Aid Kit is a dreadful name for a band and does nothing to prepare you for the close harmony, country folk songs of the young Swedish Soderberg sisters who make up the band. the Lion’s Roar is their second album and it is a fine country / folk collection, with strong songs that occasionally veer cleverly away from the usual Americana style into a more "hippie" (Mamas and the Papas maybe) sound rather. Some very catchy songs too, like the title track here.. Highly recommended to fans of Fleet Foxes, Joanna Newson, Emmylou Harris... 8/10

While we're on the folk theme, US artist Anais Mitchell's Hadestown was one of the most interesting albums of the last few years - a rock / folk / jazz concept "opera" based on Greek myth. Her new release Young Man in America is a little more "normal" and demonstrates what an original songwriter she is - complex but accessible folk / pop songs. There are themes of loss and parenthood amongst the highly articulate lyrics, and it all adds up to a demonstration that Hadestown wasn’t a fluke – this is a seriously talented artist. My one negative is that her slightly girl-ish, high pitched voice can become a touch irritating over a whole album - so 9/10 for the songs, 7/10 for the singing.

Now for something completely different - Band of Skulls are a rock three-piece from Southampton, England. Sweet Sour is their second album and it hits the White Stripes, Black Keys, even Zeppelin blues-rock buttons very nicely. Having both male and female vocalists adds a different slightly lighter dimension, there’s an indie (cf. The Kills) feel at times, and the title track amongst others shows their ability to write a catchy tune as well as rocking out. While the critics have generally given this 3 star reviews, we think it’s a bit better than that  – and expect to hear a lot more of them at the festivals this summer.   8/10

Finally, Shearwater with Animal Joy. A Texas band I’ve only been vaguely aware of, so it was a shock to find this is their 8th album. But it may be the one that moves them into the public eye more securely. I love the title track, with its touches of the yearning folk rock of Stornaway combined with a brilliant almost Coldplay or Elbow-like tune. Like Mitchell’s album above, you feel like the lyrics mean something, and they’re good at conjuring up an atmosphere with their music –I had fleeting mental echoes of U2, Tears for Fears, and various others as I listened, but all in all it’s just a highly enjoyable, modern rock album. Some of the songs feel like they could do with a bigger climax – there’s a slight tendency to drift at times – but that’s a minor complaint about a very fine album. (Here they are with Star of the Age from the album).  8.5/10

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