First Aid Kit – Ruins (Columbia)

The tale the Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg reads like a fairytale. Once upon a time, a long time ago in a far off land, two sisters dreaming of a career in music began uploading demos to  a magical space on the internet while still at school.

Meanwhile, their younger brother plays happily at kindergarten with the daughter of Karin Dreijer Andersson better known as indie darling Fever Ray. One day their mother asks Karin to check out the songs on My Space and before you know it they are signed to a record label and have released their first E.P. Drunken Trees.

Before you can say fairy godmother they have quit school  and are touring the world playing on TV shows (Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Later..With Jools Holland, Graham Norton as well as playing Leonard Cohen tributes, recording at Jack White’s Third Man studios and picking up fans thick and fast. Jump to 2018 and we find them on album number five, Ruins. It all seems too good to be true.

Of course this fairytale would have ended along time ago if First Aid Kit didn’t have the musical chops to back up everyone’s belief in them.  Once you get over the Emmylou Harris /Linda Ronstadt vocal and musical mannerisms that have always been there (they even wrote a song called Emmylou)  the songs on the new album are all top notch and the sympathetic production (muted pedal steel, swirling organ and  swelling string arrangements ) really helps to provide some colour  to what essentially is a bunch of love gone wrong songs.

Rebel Heart takes it’s drums straight to the point of breakdown until three minutes in the pain of loss leaps to the surface. Luckily It’s A Shame keeps things hopeful  with a song that Springsteen would be proud to have written. Fireworks sounds like a broken down musicbox wonkily unwinding, while the vocal asks “Why do I do this to myself every time?”

Postcard is probably the most straightforward country song on the album with it’s horse-riding rhythm and honky tonk piano refrain. Ruins has just enough of that vocal crack that has been known to make people lose their minds with it’s swooping high notes that carry you upwards only to drop you back to earth as the song picks over the skeleton of a relationship that has become a historical artifact. From there it’s revery and despair in equal parts.

So yes Ruins on one hand is just  another  country folk heartbreak album but what an album of heartbreak it is. But like all great fairytales there is something timeless in the storytelling. The combination of the sisters tight harmonies and pedal steel, strings and drums in this uncluttered collection of songs allows it to sit proudly.

Brent Giblin