First Aid Kit – Ruins

After being nigh-on inseparable since childhood, Klara Söderberg’s relocation away from her older sister Johanna to be closer to her partner in Manchester brought many challenges. When that relationship ended painfully, it served to further heighten an incredibly tough few years for the sisters from Enskede, Sweden. Upon announcing this album, the Söderbergs stated that they “Had poured their hearts and souls into this”, and that was no mere hyperbole. Ruins is an album written in the eye of the storm, a tearing off of an emotional plaster covering a wound not yet recovered. It is layered with the sound of regret, longing and loneliness and that emotional honesty feeds into what is by far their finest and most complete album yet.

On their previous three albums, there was a sense that First Aid Kit glided over the land like one of Tolkien’s elves, leaving no footprints behind. As Ruins begins with ‘Rebel Heart’, Klara singing “Nothing matters, all is futile”, there is a sense of them crashing to earth. There is a haunting aspect to many of her lyrics here, with all of the turmoil that the end of a relationship brings laid bare. It is not all doom and despair however, and it also feels like an album performed by a survivor – though perhaps one who is not yet aware that she will survive. The journey from loss and despair to anger and resolution are beautifully told, and when the bitterness of ‘Hem Of Her Dress’ arrives (“You say you’ve found yourself, oh in someone else… I’m a photograph that you forgot you took”), it has added power because of the journey before.

The album’s highpoint comes early, with the stunning single ‘Fireworks’. It would take a granite heart to listen to this achingly beautiful song without it cracking just a little in sympathy. Both this and the delicate fragility of ‘To Live A Life’ feel almost like intrusions into private and personal despair, yet are destined to give hope to others in the same situation. Ruins appears to be very much Klara’s album lyrically and thematically, with Johanna stating in interviews that she used a much lighter hand than previously when suggesting tweaks or improvements. However, her touch resonates gently throughout the whole album – as the sound of her autoharp lifting ‘My Wild Sweet Love’ to new heights shows. Together, the sisters’ harmonies are as perfectly entwined as ever, their voices wrapping around each other’s as can only happen with people who have sung together their entire lives.

Musically, you can hear a clear maturing of their sound. Moving away from regular producer Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes fame, Ruins has instead been produced by Tucker Martine. The results are more grounded, more earthy (and less ethereal) and infinitely richer in sound. The effects when the backdrop of sound falls away at the finale of ‘Distant Star’ or as it builds in the rousing second half of ‘Nothing Has To Be True’ are sensational. There are moments of light dropped in to illuminate the darkness at vital moments, with the jaunty Gram Parsons country rhythm of early single ‘Postcard’ being a perfect example.

Ruins is a stunning album, and will become something held close to many hearts or turned to in times of need. Through all of the pain and hurt, First Aid Kit have crafted something that has elevated them far, far above anything they have done before. Fourth time around, the flashes of promise and beauty of their previous output has solidified into their best work yet. Out of the ruins, a new future rises for this most talented duo.

Jamie MacMillan

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