“Cosmic American Music” was a term used by the late great father of alternative country, Gram Parsons, to describe his mystical vision for a new genre of music. Well on his way to seeing this vision through, Parsons’ untimely death in 1973 put an abrupt end to his path of liberating country music from the confines of Nashville and releasing it into the stratosphere for all to enjoy.
Lucky for us, his vision didn’t die when he did. From Bright Eyes and Neko Case to My Morning Jacket and Wilco, there have been a slew of fantastic musicians keeping Parson’s grandiose vision at the forefront of American indie music. But there is one band in particular that seems to have an even deeper, almost spiritual connection to the music of Gram Parsons.
That band is First Aid Kit.
Two sisters from Sweden — who first gained recognition from a YouTube video of them covering Fleet Foxes in 2008 when they were both still teenagers — seem an unlikely heir to the Parsons legacy. But since that video, First Aid Kit have released two staggering albums so deeply rooted in the American West that it’s hard to view their sound as anything other than a love letter to country music: specifically of the cosmic variety.
A week away from their promising third full-length album, Stay Gold, First Aid Kit brought the cosmos to the El Rey theatre in Los Angeles.
Opener Willy Mason played a solid set of plodding yet pretty country music to the eager, sold-out crowd. His songs were of a lo-fi nature, with only a guitar and a foot-operated bass drum accompanying his old-soul-style voice. (Think Johnny Cash meets Townes Van Zandt.)
After Mason’s set ended, the red curtains closed and a hush fell over those in attendance. When they reopened, amidst the smoke and almost psychedelic swirl of the pedal steel guitar, the unlikely harbingers of American music took the stage with a confident yet humble stride.
As First Aid Kit adjusted their microphones and made themselves comfortable, the anticipation of wanting to hear their beautiful harmonies grew and grew. Then the drums kicked in, and the powerful voice belonging to lead singer Johana Soderberg began to sing the first lines from the new song “Shattered and Hollowed.”
Immersed in a bathing glow of rich gold lights and a dense fog of smoke that came and went as effortlessly as the way the two sisters harmonized, First Aid Kit played a flawless set of their uniquely dark and always beautiful music. The songs they performed from Stay Gold had a sometimes-tribal feel with pounding drum beats and lyrics that conjured images of Native American shamans.
These new songs found First Aid Kit falling even further down the weird alt-country rabbit hole that they’re so fascinated by. The new material they played proved that there’s a lot to look forward to from the upcoming Stay Gold. And there’s even more to look forward to from the career of these sisters from Sweden who are keeping the spirit of Cosmic American Music alive and well.