First Aid Kit has put a bandage on a slowly dying genre of music – folk-rock.
The Swedish duo, composed of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, released “Ruins,” its fourth studio album, Friday. Though not a major stylistic departure, First Aid Kit still gives a strong performance, showcasing the Americana twang that brought the duo to popularity back in 2012.
Although the album’s first song, “Rebel Heart,” differs from First Aid Kit’s past sound, the rest of the album is very much interchangeable with the group’s past music. “Rebel Heart” and its haunting electric guitar notes are a fresh take on the group’s twangy folk sound, while the following track, “It’s A Shame,” pairs the Söderberg sisters’ howling harmonies with bright acoustic guitar chords.
Although most of the songs on “Ruins” sound like they could come from any of the group’s prior albums, the album’s innovative lyrics and nostalgic vocals lend the tracks an endearing feel that makes up for the lack of major evolution. Listening to “Ruins” feels like uncovering a dusty, decades-old folk record in a music collection and plopping it onto a turntable for the first time in ages.
The third track on the album, “Fireworks,” is a powerful ballad that sounds straight from a Patsy Cline record. The sisters’ fascinating harmonies create a distant howling effect – almost as if they’re singing around a bonfire with a group of friends.
The album’s highlight, “To Live A Life,” tells the story of two lonely and unsatisfied lovers finally coming to terms with growing apart and leaving each other. Klara Söderberg’s airy voice and overemphasized “r” inflections play over a light guitar tune, lending the song a whimsical fairy-tale aura despite its difficult and somewhat melancholy subject matter.
One of the album’s biggest flaws, however, is the slight tension between the emotions in the lyrics and the musical arrangements. Many songs on the album have a touch of ironic dissonance as a result of the sisters singing sorrowful, almost dejected lyrics over bright guitar and piano chords in a major key.
Although the lyrics are often dark, such as “I lost you, didn’t I?/ First I think I lost myself” on the album’s title track, the duo sings them to cheery instrumentals. The disconnect between the lyrics and the sound of the album can create a somewhat jarring effect – after all, song titles like “It’s a Shame,” and “Ruins” don’t necessarily connote the light and optimistic musical feel of the songs.
Despite the emotional discord, “Ruins” is overall a strong addition to First Aid Kit’s discography. It’s hard to resist singing along to the booming and upbeat outro on “Hems of Her Dress,” that features a loud and casual-sounding group of singers.
The album ends on a strong note with “Nothing Has to Be True,” another powerful ballad, and one of the album’s few tracks that doesn’t have the aforementioned disparity between the music and the lyrics. The booming piano notes add a power and force to sorrowful lyrics like “You get lost countin’ the years/ Since you last felt like you were home.”
All in all, “Ruins” makes for an enjoyable listening experience – the imagery in the lyrics is top-notch, lending the album a pleasant sensory effect that is unparalleled in a lot of other folk or country music. The musical arrangements are pleasant and sweet, with a touch of refreshing nostalgia that makes the album a surefire treat for any folk music enthusiast.