Three and a half years after the expansive, romantic ‘Stay Gold’, Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit have finally returned with their fourth album, ‘Ruins’, and it seems to have been worth the wait. With their unique brand of contemporary Americana, pulled straight out of Stockholm, Klara and Johanna Söderberg have produced another collection of haunting, heart-warming country-folk anthems. As with previous efforts, the work has retro, ‘70s-tinged elements, but still manages to sound fresh and thoroughly modern.
The vibe of this album can be summed up in the lead single It’s A Shame. The upbeat track, much like the rest of the record, is wistful and reflective, without being morose. It speaks of love, loss and the messy stuff in the middle, with a folk-pop sound that lies somewhere between ABBA and Emmylou Harris.
In their distinctive, organic harmonies, the band sings confidently that “There’s no point in wasting sorrow on things that won’t be here tomorrow,” but also asks for reassurance in the refrain: “Tell me it’s ok, to live life this way.” It deals with sombre themes, of resignation and uncertain futures, but is lifted by pop beats and pedal steel guitar.
This is an album filled with honest, heartfelt tracks, each with its own charm and the occasional surprise. From the dreamy, lilting Fireworks, to lyrical lament Ruins, with its vocal lines that jump off the tongue and end in sighing motifs. To Live a Life features Nanci Griffith-esque simple folk storytelling, before it suddenly grabs you and wraps you in a warm hug.
Melancholy and heartbreak pervade the song-writing on this record, but the music is certainly not dreary or despairing. My Wild Sweet Love is driving and upbeat, with some fun moments of instrumentation, while opening track Rebel Heart has a bit more fire, with pounding beats, electronic elements, and rollercoaster lyrical lines.
With a relatively large gap between albums, it’s clear that First Aid Kid have stepped back, taken a breath, and really thought about what they want to say on this record. After the success of ‘Stay Gold’, they easily could have returned with a bigger, flashier production, but ‘Ruins’ is a strong and subtle affair. It’s an album that has the confidence to take its time, and although there are plenty of influences to be heard, the Söderberg sisters haven’t abandoned the simple folk qualities that made them stand out from the start. In the dark, moody harmonies of Hem of Her Dress, they sing of being “so loud and so discrete,” and it sounds like that’s exactly what they’ve created here.