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First Aid Kit's 'Stay Gold' is earnest but often derivative ★★½

 First Aid Kit's 'Stay Gold' is earnest but often derivative ★★½
"Stay Gold" by First Aid Kit. (Columbia)

Sweden is less known for its folk scene than for its place in the pure pop market, where for decades the country has produced glistening, chrome-toned singles. For obvious reasons — climate, lack of cowboys and troubadours — country and western and earnest folk rock have seldom been ingredients. This makes young sibling duo First Aid Kit unique, and the proof is spread throughout their new album, "Stay Gold."

Produced in Omaha by longtime Saddle Creek Records affiliate Michael Mogis, "Stay Gold" confirms artists eager to explore a big sound. "Shattered and Hollow" offers echoed drama with a minimal beat and Klara Söderberg's huge voice, a vivid recollection of lost love ferried into the present. "Heaven Knows" should be a hit: a singalong gem with an uptempo shuffle-beat and a gigantic hook.

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But the group often sounds more derivative than it does inspired, and clumsy lyrics don't help. The first lines of the record, from "My Silver Lining," offer a hint of what's to come. "I don't know if I'm scared of dying but I'm scared of living too fast too slow," Klara explains with a forced twang, lost amid linguistic boulders and a cleverness that muddles meaning. "The Waitress Song" is a patronizing ballad about moving to a small town to become a waitress. "It's a long, twisted road we are on," Klara sings as a moaning violin takes flight. Surrounded by such thrills, the cliches sound less so.

The closer, "A Long Time Ago," strives for a grand conclusion, but misses amid musical melodrama that sounds forced, a problem that permeates "Stay Gold."

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First Aid Kit

"Stay Gold"

(Columbia)

Two and a half stars

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