First Aid Kit - Ruins Album Review
Though its commercial and cultural height are behind it, the genre of independent folk music continues to be at the forefront of creating the album of the year contenders year over year. Artists such as Father John Misty, Mount Eerie and Sun Kil Moon have evolved the genre’s identity from that of its commercial heyday; the once tender and sweet sounds established by Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and Mumford & Sons feel out of place among the grimmer and melancholic snapshots of modern society among contemporary releases. However, First Aid Kit remains one of the few artists able to find success with this style, and with their fourth studio album Ruins, the Swedish duo begins to start placing their own interesting twist on the style.
This is apparent from the opening track, “Rebel Heart.” Right away an electric guitar establishes a haunted mood for the album that perfectly matches the songs' themes of questioning what about oneself causes a lack of self-confidence or loved ones to be pushed away. These themes continue to play out on the rest of the album, though accompanied by a variety of different instrumental choices. Tracks like “My Wild Sweet Love,” “Hem of Her Dress” and “Nothing Has to Be True” continue the songwriting traditions of folk music but incorporate lush instrumentation in a way that’s not just fresh, but creates solid emotional foundations for the duo’s lyrical themes. First Aid Kit has often played into the standard subject matter of folk music well enough before, but a matured sense of self-awareness lends itself to a deeper and more personal take on lost love and personal growth.
But what remains at the forefront for the duo in their success is their incredible vocal deliveries. Though in some ways it could be seen as a crutch for the duo, Ruins treats the performances of its two lead voices as its centerpiece rather than its crutch. Some of the slower, more by-the-books songwriting found on tracks such as “Postcard,” “Distant Star” and “Ruins” are saved from being average album filler by the vocal melodies.
It’s here where Ruins begins to teeter on the fence between being a good and great album. Ruins contains great sonic and instrumental choices, but chooses to only incorporate them on less than half the album. The rest of the tracks vary in almost no way to what fans of indie folk have heard for the last decade, offering nothing more than great vocal performances. First Aid Kit continues to prove they deserve a place at the indie folk best-of discussion, but fail to fully utilize their strengths throughout the entire runtime of an album.
Fans of indie folk will find a lot to enjoy on Ruins, and listeners more privy to pop music are sure to find themselves returning to repeated listens for the great vocal performances. But as for the rest of the music listening population, there are just too many missed opportunities to remain in a general “best of the year” discussion. First Aid Kit have proven they’ve got important contributions to make to the genre, but need to refine their album writing process to keep those contributions consistent throughout an album’s entire runtime.
Chandler Copenheaver is a senior majoring in public relations. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Senior / Public Relations