In just a few years, audiences have been able to observe the Swedish duo First Aid Kit make the journey from bare-bones folk act to atmospheric chameleon, infusing electro pop elements into their battered hymns. Just when it seems as though Klara and Johanna Söderberg have hit their stride, they restructure their sound and continue to expand as artists. The band’s latest, Ruins, is a complete departure from their 2010 debut, The Big Black and the Blue, and yet it boasts a sound that uniquely belongs to the Söderberg sisters.
Through the aid of indie rock producer Tucker Martine (Sufjan Stevens, the Decemberists), the Swedish duo have beefed up their orchestration, calling upon a myriad of talented performers to leave their mark on the record, such as Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, Midlake’s McKenzie Smith, and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck. Positioned simultaneously in both the past and future, Ruins pulls from a variety of musical influences, miraculously doing them all justice. The heightened instrumentation can be a bit bloated at times, but each track is (an always has been) led by those siren voices that are nothing if not angelic.
The Söderberg sisters are still motivated by an adoration of the American frontier, as we see on twangy cowboy numbers like “Postcard” and “Distant Star,” but that is far from where their interests cease. “Fireworks” and “My Wild Sweet Love” are straight dream pop tunes that could easily find a mainstream audience. Remarkably, the wailing wonders are able to slide in between these stylistic markers without misstep, appearing just at home in one genre as they do in another and seamlessly blending tones to make a singular, cohesive statement.
No matter the genre, there is a deep heartfelt pain in the lyricism. Chronicling a nasty breakup, the record is haunted by the ghosts of unfulfilled passion. “Well, a goodbye never seems finished,” begins “Distant Star,” as the realization kicks in that “They hang a love like stars in the night / But there’s nothing there but the illusion of a light.” More than a tale of heartbreak, Ruins is about the fundamental revelations that are only born out of unavoidable strife. On this record, Klara and Johanna Söderberg sift through the debris of aftermath and lift themselves up from the ashes.
First Aid Kit gained international attention with their YouTube cover of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” and it seems like there may be some residual Fleet Foxes mojo left in their sound. There is a familiar hurried cadence that drives “Ruins,” which could believably be a lost track from the Helplessness Blues recording sessions. The record goes out with a bang, as the brassy, Neutral Milk Hotel-esque “Hem of Her Dress” evolves into a crowded hootenanny sing-a-long before the dynamic and rebellious “Nothing Has to be True” crescendos into an ambient explosion of confidence.
Clocking in at a crisp 39 minutes, Ruins is a cinematic venture that skillfully capitalizes on this sisterhood of celestial harmonies. As they give themselves over to the music, Klara and Johanna Söderberg bleed into a single mesmerizing voice. Even with a blossoming musical landscape that continues to unfold behind them, First Aid Kit find new ways to fine-tune their enchanting accentuation.