First Aid Kit - "Ruins"
FIRST AID KIT
Columbia Records / January 19th 2018
Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg are back with more hypnotizing and effortless harmonies in their fourth album, “Ruins”. Following the large success of their previous album “Stay Gold” (which went all the way to #26 on the Billboard 200), “Ruins” adds another level of polish and maturity in songwriting and production. Armed with new producer Tucker Martine, who pushes the sisters out of their comfort zone, and a proper session band complete with horns, strings, and drums, “Ruins” is a rawer offering than “Stay Gold”, but stays true to their strengths. The album reflects on Klara’s life recently being turned upside down and although heartbreaking and gut-wrenching at times, the songs are an appreciation of how beautiful things used to be, even though they ended up in ruins.
The duo had a long road to Portland recording this album. After being on the road since they were 16, the sisters took a much-needed break from music in 2015. Klara returned home to Manchester where things ended with her boyfriend and she ended up in Stockholm again with her sister. Things weren’t easy for the next 2 years, and “Ruins” came to fruition through an innate need to express her feelings through music. Still only 25 and 27, Klara and Johanna express depth and feeling of someone who is much older. The first single from the album “It’s a Shame” might not be the best representation of the album. An lively folksy tune that feels too “safe” to be the first single. Despite the upbeat drum pattern and tempo, the song is about the sudden shock and realization of being alone after a breakup. The chorus bellows, “Tell me it’s okay to live life this way, sometimes I want you to stay, I know it’s a shame”. The feeling of wanting someone to tell you things are okay when they are not comes through with jangled piano and warm harmonies.
“Fireworks” is a true ballad with treble soaked electric guitars playing arpeggios and Juno keyboards pushing the 1950’s feel. The tangled vocals of the tandem dance around the frustrating feeling of having conviction in your plans and dreams and then having them not work out. “Why do I do this to myself every time? I know the way it ends before it’s even begun.” A relatable theme resonates from this track through the album, of being powerless to a known fate. It’s this reflection of life that is expressed consistently, allowing them to put the pieces back together stronger than before. The instrumentation is precise and stripped back in chord structure and wraps around the vocals completing the song. The album pushes forward with “Postcard”, a heartbreaking and beautiful country-folk song written to a now single boyfriend asking him, “Send me a postcard when you get to where you're going, send me a line to everything you've left behind”. Complete with pedal steel guitar, it’s a toe-tapping kind of jig, despite the heavy lyrical content.
The album finishes with two impressive songs. “Hem of Her Dress” encompasses the vocal strengths of the band, showing them off and screaming across the song. After floating through three verses of sorrow, Klara shrugs, “Oh, I guess that's the way it goes” after which the song wakes up with a rousing outro complete with full backup vocals and horns. The kind of vocal chants that demand a live singalong. Then we fall into the finale, “Nothing Has to Be True”, a simple and elegant slow-burning slow-strumming ballad. Growing and adding piano, bass, and drums to the end, the song starts and ends with ominous lyrics like “Each and every breath we take a step towards death”.
First Aid Kit pushes deeper within themselves on their fourth album, while keeping their formula simple. This simplicity becomes a downfall at times, potentially stagnating certain songs that could have become more ambitious or memorable. Whether that is a product of a new producer or a magnetic comfortability to their vocal grace, “It’s a Shame”, “Ruins” and “To Live a Life” are examples of songs the team could’ve taken a bigger step forward with musically. Safe or not, “Ruins” is an impressive musical rumination of things in your life breaking down, reflecting on them and building them back up into something stronger. Music as therapy.