First Aid Kit – Ruins
January is the cruelest month and all that, at least in the northern hemisphere. True, the days are getting longer but the changes seem so subtle as to be non-existent and the month always feels rather like an unending stretch of darkness and cold. There is always too a dearth of new records in January which doesn’t help much and which means that the appearance of First Aid Kit’s third LP came as something of a delight to lighten the days, if not particularly the mood. ‘Ruins’ is not a particularly cheery record.
Sleeved in high contrast black and white with the Söderberg sisters looking suitably moody, the songs within come across as More Of The Same which, if you are a fan of First Aid Kit is certainly something to celebrate. If, on the other hand, you are the kind of person who thinks that each release by an artist needs to show Stylistic Shifts to reflect notions of Progress then no doubt you will listen to ‘Ruins’ and find it somewhat lacking. You would also, I might aver, be Missing The Point about art and artistic development in general but that is an argument to be carried out in a different realm, preferably over a glass of something strong.
All of which means that for me ‘Ruins’ is really rather charming and lovely, particularly on what on vinyl we would call Side 1. Front-loaded with singles (three of the first four tracks), it’s clear that when First Aid Kit have great songs to work with they are a very class act indeed. Their voices are delicious of course, and the sibling harmonies fit charmingly into the International folk-infused Country context that they so comfortably inhabit. For me it’s best framed in the marvellous ‘Fireworks’ which is as fine a break-up song as you are likely to hear. It is a song of peaks and troughs, aches, pains and steely-eyed soaring redemption; a song of here, now, then and tomorrow. Remember to forget to remember.
That Side 2 of ‘Ruins’ falls away and drifts into mediocrity is a shame. It’s not that I particularly object to the fact that the mood, pace or flavour of the side never seems to vary much (see aforementioned argument about Stylistic Shifts) it’s more that the quality of the songs just doesn’t seem all that great. They lack those hooks, pauses, shimmies and glints of highlights illuminating the darkness that make the best of Side 1 (and ‘Fireworks’ in particular) so splendid and it all rather feels as though the record is sputtering out like a candle burnt to its end, exhausted. As a metaphor for January it is all but perfect, as we eagerly make our proclamations of intent to magnificence only for our Good Intentions to be erased by the immutable, unending bleakness of the landscapes around us.