Rating: 5 out of 5
It's very nearly eight years since the release of First Aid Kit's fully formed debut album 'The Big Black And The Blue', and just over three and a half since their biggest selling record to date, 'Stay Gold'. Rather incredibly, given that this is their fourth full-length album since the Soderberg's emerged onto the international stage some ten years ago, the oh so talented sisters are still only twenty-seven (Johanna) and twenty-five (Klara). Their collective artistry belies their relative youth and manifests itself in such a glorious musical form. They have continually managed to raise their profile subsequent to their initial breakthrough, and have now established themselves as part of the public consciousness with a raft of songs that are, at their very least, seriously difficult to dislike.
Just like your favourite old sweater there is something very warm and comforting about a First Aid Kit album; it's like coming home or being given a supportive hug. With 'Ruins', the band's latest release, you're going to need a degree of comfort, whether it be food, a stiff drink, clothing or emotional support because, despite some of the rhythms throwing you off the scent with their upbeat feel, this is the mother of all break-up albums (if you have a proclivity to be the least bit teary you're going to need a box of Kleenex). 'Ruins' is the estranged grandchild of Joni Mitchell's 'Blue' or a long lost relative of Nick Cave's 'Boatman's Call'; it's got the whole gamut of unrequited love, rejection, loneliness, despair and jealousy to boot. It's lyrically heart-wrenching, at times tragically sad, but throughout a thoroughly compelling, engaging and emotional experience.
We've already been treated to three tracks ahead of the album's release; the country infused recollection of the philosophical 'It's A Shame', the honky-tonk shuffling of 'Postcards' and the magnificent melancholic splendour of 'Fireworks'. The latter is a masterclass of emotive expression that is full of raw hurting and shredded emotions; a track built on utterly real despondency and a despairing sense of reality that somehow manages to be empowering in its brutal honesty. "Why do I do this to myself? Every time I know the way it ends, Before it's even begun, I am the only one at the finish line."
The real joy of 'Ruins', however, has not been given up ahead of the main event. In a rather old-fashioned way, the greatest single thing about this album is its entirety. This is truly an album where the whole is far greater than sum of its parts, and its parts are pretty special on their own. 'Hem Of Her Dress' couldn't ever have been written without going through the sickening, stomach-churning loss of someone you love and the final acceptance that they no longer love you back. "You say you've found yourself, Oh in someone else, And she makes you forget about the rain" the siblings sing out, and one point bark out, their scarred outburst in a Bjork like style before they collect themselves ahead of an uplifting brass and vocal finale. It's a long held, somewhat clichéd, belief that suffering and despair only serve to increase the quality of ones artistic output but you can't help but believe that on hearing 'Ruins'.
The title track is possibly the most modest of all the compositions that make up the ten new tracks. The gentle melody of the song underscores the contemplative retrospective and analysis of a relationship gone sour. To say that Klara and Johanna have worn their hearts on their sleeves with this album is understating it; this is more of a psychological deconstruction laid bare, a reality show of an album that recoils from nothing in its recollections. 'Distant Star' tries to offer up a hope and a reality to the situation but it too is laden with sorrow and sadness as well as being equally uncompromising and unflinching: "But I'll hold on to whatever I can until it's gone, I'll carry on for none of us will be here for too long."
Bookending the album are two of its highlights. Opener 'Rebel Heart' is a slice of First Aid Kit brilliance. The percussively charged two parter sets up the album perfectly where the vocals are balanced beautifully in an (ever so slightly) more agitated and aggressive tone. Paul Brainard's trumpet is a delightful surprise at the close of the track and just one of the many additional instrumental high points. 'Nothing Has To Be True' concludes the ten track fayre in epic fashion. The slow, considered build gradually and effectively turns its pent up energy into a momentous pedal steel, drum, piano and stringed crescendo that would draw any show to a climactic ending.
'Ruins' may have been built on the back of post break-up heartache and misery, sibling fractions and disillusionment, but it has resulted in a fantastic album full of raw passion, truth and brutal honesty, and if that weren't enough, it's all brought to bear with such eloquent lyrical and musical expression. You've probably got an album, or at least a collection of songs, that are your go-to for going out, partying, solitude, quite, refection, etc. 'Ruins' will surely be your new go-to post break-up essential, although it's definitely not essential to have a break up to enjoy it!