The sad Swedish sisters are back with their fourth album, ten songs of crooning harmony and synth. Ruins is a breakup album so pure and candid it’ll have you crying into your ice cream about heartache that hasn’t even happened yet. The work is anything but stripped back – as with any of First Aid Kit’s albums the produced, polished vocals are the star of the show.
Johanna and Klara Söderberg use their well-loved accessories of camp-fire guitar and synth, but add a twist of more keyboard and bass, setting tracks in this album apart from any other. Written while vocalist/guitarist Klara was mourning the end of a relationship, Ruins is beautifully bitter, a reflection on, what hindsight shows was, an inevitable ending.
“A breakup album so pure and candid it’ll have you crying into your ice cream about heartache that hasn’t even happened yet”
The album opens with the tinny keyboard riff of ‘Rebel Heart’, quickly providing a sinister backing for the frustrated vocals. “Why do I keep dreaming of you? / Is it all because of my rebel heart?”. The repetitive rhythm feels reluctant and pained. This sentiment, that Klara should know better and be able to control her emotions, permeates the whole album. On Fleetwood Mac-meets-ABBA ‘It’s a Shame’, she confesses “Sometimes the night cuts through me like a knife”. ‘Fireworks’ is a clear highlight of the album and we are pulled along on a lamenting 50s waltz with 80s guitar and keyboards. “Why do I do this to myself every time? I know the way it ends.”
The self-berating continues on ‘Postcard’ “I went and broke my own goddamned heart”. The jaunty percussion mirrors more constructive reflection. It is difficult to let go, and some connection is yearned for, albeit snarkily. “Send me a line to everything you’ve left behind”. The album was recorded in Portland and the American influence is clear, especially on the plucked strings of ‘To Live a Life’; even the accents become more American, and Klara is “on the interstate drinking cheap wine” with gloomy synth. The band’s Swedish folk-pop roots are back on the bouncy ‘Wild Sweet Love’ and warbling ‘Distant Star’. Title track ‘Ruins’ is perhaps the single closest to previous album Stay Gold, but with a tone too defeated. ‘Hem of Her Dress’ starts to bring resolution, with a folky almost-acapella la-la singalong and applause to finish. Finally, the exhausted ‘Nothing Has to Be True’ delivers final mourns: “Oh, I thought you were home” and brings closure in the form of a percussion crescendo, bringing a cathartic end to a well contained body of work.
Artist: First Aid Kit. Label: Columbia. Top Tracks: The Fireworks; Hem of Her Dress. For Fans Of: Laura Marling; Lykke Li. 39 minutes