It’s amazing to find Swedish country folk duo First Aid Kit already releasing their fourth album and between releasing fascinatingly authentic Americana-drenched albums, they’ve conquered the world, cracking the US market and even appearing as regular guests on Graham Norton’s A-list chat show.
“Ruins” finds them in a reflective mood, opening with moody “Behind Blue Eyes”-esque “Rebel Heart” which tricks you into thinking they’ve dropped their country sound for something dark and electronic in the opening bars before returning to the lush orchestrations of their usual vibe. There’s a brilliant winding down to the track after 3 minutes before a stirring instrumental break which segues back into the main lyrical refrain and then on to track 2 before you can catch your breath, all mournful brass section and emotive piano. Track 2 is the stand out “It’s a Shame”, a really jaunty bittersweet heartbreak song with rapid chord progressions and a galloping backing with organ swirls and beautifully sweet vocal harmonies from the sisters.
“Fireworks” is a little more astral but no less achingly joyous and soaring, sounding like a 1950s doo-wop song to soundtrack your break up after the prom. Lyrically, it’s all about pain and regret mixed with euphoria and a touch of defiance. “Postcard” is country a la Tammy Wynette, so authentic you can pick the hayseeds from your hair, shuffling drums, dixie strings slicing in as backing vocals and lyrics all about trouble and an errant travelling lover. “To Live a Life” is a quieter, more reflective piece which places the vocals at the centre, stripping away the big production to tell a simple affecting story.
“My Wild Sweet Love” is a small but epic pop song reminiscent of Bastille verging into a haunting rural ballad.
“Distant Star” picks up the pace slightly with a slightly waltzy vibe and some power vocals alongside a hurdy gurdy middle eight. “Hem of Her Dress” sounds like a classic folk song made for drunken choruses around a bustling pub or saloon with carefully plucked strings and melancholy refrain before two thirds of the way through it becomes entirely raucous, euphoric and outstanding. It’s like a more polite Pogues number and if you’re not joining in on the first lesson, you’re probably too drunk already, or dead.
Title track “Ruins” stars small and disarmingly as does final track “Nothing Has to Be True” which feels sad and epic and like some of their earlier material, designed to soundtrack glorious scenes of indie movie finales. It ends with a building wall of sound, distortion howling through the speakers whilst the strings die away and the instinct is to play the whole thing again from the start.
Overall, the album breaks no new ground as such but shows the Söderberg sisters refining their particularly quirky, joyfully melancholy, well-honed and knowing, yet terrifically authentic country sound, all the way from Sweden. Enjoy y’all.