We last heard First Aid Kit in ‘Ruins’ an album full of heartbreak songs that weighed so heavily on the band they ended their last touring schedule completely burnt out. After a much needed break they’re back with ‘Palomino’, recorded during the pandemic and produced by Daniel Bengston with some songwriting assistance from Bjorn Yttling. The horse of the title is a symbol of strength and freedom, signalling that the positive changes in their recent personal lives will be reflected in the new music (much like the other album of the same name released this year).
Johanna has described this as ‘our best record’ and Klara said it was a ‘joyful experience’, all of which signals that the emotional lows of the last album are well behind them. Of course that doesn’t mean all the songs are happy, but they have aimed for something more optimistic lyrically and musically too. You hope the strains placed on the relationship between the sisters has been healed by this new, more carefree approach.
Some of the reference points they have made in terms of the sound have been less country/folk and more retro pop like ABBA, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and Springsteen even. Many of these influences may be a little surprising to fans at first but opening track ‘Out of My Head’ shows that they can pull it off. Here they ask for the river to cleanse their past, let them free from their thoughts so they can begin to live in the real world and not in their dreams. The pounding rhythm makes the whole song breathe.
‘Angel’ is a song about the pain of turning anxiety, jealousy and hate in on yourself. The chorus transforms self-doubt into compassion for others. The harmonies give this one so much energy, even if the underlying theme is fragility.
The most ABBAesque song is ‘Ready to Run’, but the pop tone is not reflected in the lyrics which describe how they’re ‘sensitive’, ‘nervous’ and uncertain about themselves, their relationship and their careers. As much as they’re trying to go ‘pop’ they still sound more comfortable when they veer towards the darker and more alternative edges of that style.
‘Turning Onto You’ is the first song here to begin with the familiar strum of an acoustic guitar and quiet harmonies (this one was written alone, without help from their producer or collaborator). Similarly ‘Wild Horses II’ has an eerie, evocative feel detailing the distance between two unravelling lovers with diverging music taste.
After this quiet reflective centre, the album begins galloping again with ‘The Last One’ celebrating new found love with a declaration of everlasting devotion. An orchestra adds some dramatic, emotional intensity to the stunning ‘Nobody Knows’. Then we even have handclaps and jazz trumpets appearing on ‘A Feeling That Never Came’, which is a little disconcerting on a song about thinking back to the moment when you realised that a relationship was doomed to fail.
‘29 Palms Highway’ takes us out into the desert – a spiritual place of sanctuary and healing. The final song is the title track – sounding all Tom Pettyesque, the sisters free falling through the sky, towards the unknown road, heading out to ‘roam’.
The album cover has Klara and Johanna huddled together under a cloudy sky, merging together for comfort and protection in the face of a stormy and uncertain world. Palomino sets their wild horses free into that wide expansive ocean. Follow their music and find new light.