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Album Review: First Aid Kit - Ruins

Andrew Young discusses a strong fourth album from the Swedish sisters

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Rating: 8/10

After a three-and-a-half year break, Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg have returned, with a record that showcases strong songwriting and enough musical variation to keep the album interesting. Ruins is an album that perhaps does not contain any 'hits' as such, rather it is a series of songs revolving around a central theme and the same indie-folk style.

Lyrically, the album turns on love and loss, a less-than-groundbreaking pair it must be admitted. Yet what is clever about the Soderbergs' songwriting is their persistence on this theme and their subtly-shifting perspectives on it. Broadly, the songs are all about someone who has been in love and left behind, while their partner moves on to adventures new. The songs' views on this vary somewhat. For all the solemn loss on 'Ruins' and palpable sense of pain on 'Nothing Has to Be True', there is a yearning for dreams and independence on 'To Live a Life' and 'Postcard'. The album plays almost like a conversation the singer is having with themselves, oscillating between melancholy and a rousing love of freedom and adventures. There is therefore a consistent knowledge that broken relationships have many facets and many sides. The repeated focus on one concept is kept fresh through a witty self-awareness. The beginning of 'Hem of Her Dress' contains the words 'here we go again', while 'Distant Star' also acknowledges the continued shifting views of one event with the lines: "Well, a goodbye never seems finished/Just like these songs that I write".

The deceptively interesting lyrics are wrapped up in music that doesn't flirt with any boundaries, but doesn't become stale either. For over half of the album, the band's delicate acoustic strumming is married with sweet harmonies and enough percussion to give them a more dramatic and expansive sound that steers them away from easy Laura Marling comparisons. This is for a while not varied greatly and another weakness perhaps comes in the vocals. Klara has a great, sweet voice that is reminiscent of Joan Baez, but this 'pretty' quality lacks a slight rough edge that it could sometimes do with. When she sings the refrain on 'My Wild Sweet Love', it is the 'Wild' that feels missing.

These minor quibbles are overturned somewhat in the album's closing trio of songs, as if the sisters knew exactly when they were starting to do their formula to death. The title track is darker and moodier than before, while 'Hem of Her Dress' is a welcome surprise,
punctuating its stripped-back sound with a sudden animalistic snarl. 'Nothing Has to Be True' is then a fittingly grandiose and passionately-sung ending with an unexpected close. Ruins is an impressive, lyrically interesting record that deftly avoids the pitfalls one might expect of it. Its hummable tunes are underpinned by a heartfelt emotional centre that makes the album a success.

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