‘Ruins’ is an album of contrast; bitterness and pain are addressed in defiantly assured voices, nostalgia is woven with optimism while youth battles wisdom for an emotional reckoning. It’s a confounding effort and yet the Swedish sisters have crafted their most cohesive record to date.
From start to finish this is a breakup album loaded with longing and regret, self-doubt and disappointment, and follows the dissolution of younger sibling Klara Sӧderberg’s relationship. While the subject matter may have matured from their previous records as the rose tint wore off, the sisters’ classic country and folk-pop sound hasn’t really altered. If anything it’s clearer than ever, with their unmistakable twinned vocals and effortless, lilting blood harmonies taking center stage.
Opening track ‘Rebel Heart’ wouldn’t sound out of place on a Lana Del Rey album and the subtle but affecting pedal steel throughout tethers this record to its American country and folk influences, never more prominent than on sprawling honky-tonk ballad ‘Postcard’. While many of their indie-folk contemporaries are feigning meek quirkiness, First Aid Kit holds their ground walking a line between conventional feminine pop and bare-hearted catharsis. It’s rarely uncomfortable but you get the idea.
It’s hardly a criticism to say the sisters have refined their performance to near-perfection, but in truth ‘Ruins’ suffers a little for its smooth finish. The polished pop of driving lead single ‘It’s A Shame’ washes over sorrow with sweet sunshine and at times the strength of the vocals come across as unsentimental. It calls to mind the saying “if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is” but in the case of Klara Sӧderberg’s broken heart that’s totally unfair, it’s simply that the confidence of the delivery juxtaposes the vulnerability in these songs. They’re almost too good for their own good.
Reparations are made on songs like the gentle ‘To Live A Life’ and brutal ‘Hem Of Her Dress’, the shrillness and venom of the latter being nurtured by fragile acoustic guitar and mandolin before a boisterous chorus of voices and brass bring it to a climax. The album closer, ‘Nothing Has To Be True’, is undoubtedly the rawest and honest of these 10 songs; a kind of quiet resignation swept away by two minutes of orchestral reflection, fading to a natural conclusion in the fuzz of a guitar. Only when all is said and done does the aching truly sink in.
Although this record isn’t as life-altering as a break-up itself, it is certainly a hopeful step forward and still, First Aid Kit have left themselves with plenty of room to grow.