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Review: First Aid Kit – Ruins

Georgia Dack

Georgia is the website entertainment editor and is also an English literature and Film student; she (unsurprisingly) enjoys & likes to write about cinema, tv shows, books, music, and culture.

First Aid Kit’s previous records have been defined by a celebration of their influences, previous successes Stay Gold and The Lions Roar possessing a folk music core with orchestral flourishes, and hints of Americana; Ruins, however, moves firmly into the latter. Ruins was written after the breakdown of a relationship, and as the title suggests, it is as nostalgic in its themes as it is in the band’s signature retro sound. However, the sweeping multi-instrumental folk pop of before is transformed with the introduction of sharp electric guitars and country wails; lyrics paint a romanticised map, with coloured memories of “the interstate” or a “beach in Chicago”. But in their move to a more American sound, it sometimes feels as though their previously freer sounding music has been shoehorned into more conventional boxes, and this works for some songs more than others.

Their mid-tour 2017 release “You Are the Problem Here” was a sharp shift from their previously softer and subtler songs, tackling sexual harassment with more bite and anger. It was a less commercially-successful, but ambitious and resounding effort to do something off-piste, as they often do in their live performances. Ruins, however, was ushered in with a folk-pop single ‘It’s A Shame’ which couples an upbeat rolling melody with forlorn lyrics. Its a great song, and refined in many senses, but it doesn’t reflect that ambition heard before.

The midsection, with tracks like ‘My Wild Sweet Love’ and ‘Distant Star’, passes by unnoticed, and in particular the acoustic guitar track ‘To Live a Life’ instead of feeling stripped down, feels undeveloped and basic. Look out for the quiet title track ‘Ruins’, hidden amongst these more obscure songs, and give it another listen – its a slow burner.

To its benefit, each song on Ruins feels distinct, covering the complexities of heartbreak through several avenues, but it also sounds like a mixed bag. ‘Postcard’, with its comfortable tempo and country sound, is a far cry from the bold-yet-morbid opening track ‘Rebel Heart’ which basks in rich minor chords and electric guitars. ‘Hem of her dress’ harks back to their raw debut Drunken Trees, but for what reason?

Despite the disparity of the aforementioned tracks, they are some of the better songs on the record, and as with all of their music, are bound together by the impressive vocals of the Soderberg sisters. Klara’s soaring and sharper higher range is complemented by Johanna’s softer and deeper voice, and these sophisticated harmonies can inventively transform even in the most unoriginal music.

There is also more pleasure to be found in songs which have clearly had more time poured put into them. One of the successes of the album is ‘Fireworks’; albeit different from their usual fare, it is a retro slow-dance dipped in hazy reverberating guitars and heartbreak. With its mix of dreamy harmonies and twinkling piano, it has a magical and picturesque quality. The album similarly ends on a high with ‘Nothing Has to Be True’, a song which, as it slowly fizzles out, gives the break-up record a cosmic and resonating final note of emotional resolve.

It’s difficult to know how many times to listen to an album before coming to conclusions, but Ruins should be afforded a few more listens to fully appreciate what First Aid Kit have done right. If you enjoyed their previous work, chances are you’ll enjoy this. Although it doesn’t break barriers, Ruins does feel a matured move from their previous work – it’s more conventional, but it is at least a step in the right direction, and well worth a listen.


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