Aptly titled, Ruins, the fourth album from the Söderberg sisters, also known as First Aid Kit, is a testament to the raw and visceral experience of heartbreak. True to their American roots, the album showcases the sisters’ indisputable knack for creating poignant ballads with their distinct vocal harmony only blood relation can produce.
While their 2014 album, Stay Gold, consolidated itself on heartland folk and optimism, Ruins captivates on a far more heart-wrenching note as the pair venture into realms and roads less traveled.
Nostalgia drenches this ten-track album while the Söderberg sisters, Johanna and Klara, contemplate the aftershock of a breakup and yearn to understand the latent components of a failed relationship. Written in Joshua Tree National Park after Klara’s separation from her fiancé, the tracks combine a desolate narrative with a lighter, American beat amid an extremely fragile emotional state.
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Produced by Tucker Martine, the album notes contributors such as R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and Midlake drummer McKenzie Smith.
Album opener, “Rebel Heart,” is remarkably haunting as the sisters’ vocals wail and ache for a love lost. Moving onto a more optimistic note, “It’s a Shame” is one of the more upbeat tracks on the album pairing the pain of loss with a catchy composition, making it one to remember. The track feels intensely freeing, tinged with the same quality of sound heard in First Aid Kit favorites such as “My Silver Lining” and “Cedar Lane.”
“Fireworks” is utterly crushing as the sisters sing, “Why do I do this to myself?” and the melancholy immediately seeps into the song within the first few notes. The lyrics detail the constant inner turmoil of doubt and the composition swells with angst.
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Elsewhere, the sisters hit hard with tracks like “Distant Star” and “My Wild Sweet Love” concurring with their true folk roots while forming a sound completely their own. “Hem of Her Dress” is significant in the raw anger that is evident throughout the whole track. The Söderberg sisters rarely hold back and this track is a tribute to their sincere narration.
Yet, as with any album, there are tracks that pale in comparison to the ones that overwhelm in every sense of the word. It’s not that “Postcard” and the album closer, “Nothing Has to Be True,” are underwhelming, but they feel redundant to the pensive magic the stronger tracks bring about.
The emotional state sets the stage for the album and the tracks pound home their impassioned accounts in life. As a whole, First Aid Kit’s fourth installment is entirely cathartic, a cry into the void that carries weight with just about anyone. The tracks on their own dwell on the minute details of a fleeting relationship, unraveling and unpacking the density of loss.
Klara and Johanna Söderberg make no attempt in concealing their emotional turbulence. It’s this mindset that sets them apart from the crowd. First Aid Kit exists in a multitude of genres, fringing on ’60s country pop, true Americana and rootsy folk. An anomaly in the best way possible, Ruins maintains First Aid Kit’s ethereal and evocative presence.