Posts Tagged ‘Ruins’

Love, lust, loss, regret, recrimination, and reflection – those are the raisons d’être for much, though certainly not all, popular music. From alternative to zydeco, and all the in-betweens, songwriters chart matters of the heart and soul with lyrical laments and exultations set to melodies and rhythms that, they hope, impart similar sentiments. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. And success or failure depends not upon a strict set of rules, but who’s listening.

Which is to say, Ruins is a sterling set of songs from sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, aka First Aid Kit, that grows stronger with each listen. One way I know an album has staying power is that, when I’m not listening to it, snippets splash from the back of my brain like a soft rain in the summertime. And just as often happens with a soft rain, those initial drips gradually pick up in intensity and, within minutes, a downpour ensues. Such was the case this week with this album. First one song…

… then another…

… and then another.

By now, I’d wager, most fans know the backstory to Ruins: After the Stay Gold LP and tour, the sisters parted ways – not from an acrimonious falling out, but because of life. Klara followed her heart (and boyfriend) to Manchester; Johanna stayed put in Stockholm. By the time they came together to begin work on their next project, however, Klara’s relationship had ended…and, thus, an album was born. (Klara delves deeper into it in this informative Paste interview.) In short, it’s a 10-song quest for the light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Pitchfork calls “Fireworks” and several of the other tracks “bold stylistic departures.” Honestly, they’re no more radical a departures than “Wolf” was back in 2012. As FAK (or their social-media person) said in a Facebook post at the time, it’s “very different from anything we’ve ever done before.” It’s called evolution. Growth. The willingness to tackle a new style – or, in this instance, old, given that the song conjures the R&B ballads popular during the 1950s – is what happens when artists follow their muse.

As a whole, the songs delve into heartache, heartbreak and hard truths, and often attempt to wish away the pain – “Lately I’ve been thinking about the past/How there is no holding back/No point in wasting sorrow/On things that won’t be here tomorrow” – while being unable to do just that. It’s a shame, indeed, but that oxymoron is the grist that’s often milled by living life.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the final song, “Nothing Has to Be True,” an emotional epic about self-doubt and self-awakening, and the vagaries of both. It’s one of their greatest works, easily, and is the song I’m most excited to hear live.

I’ll close with this: A relationship-gone-wrong has resulted in many a great song and album through the decades. While it’s far too soon to say where this LP lies in that pantheon, it’ll be interesting to see how it grows in stature (or not). The songs may not become a Parthenon for heartache, but my hunch is that these Ruins won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Ruins, the first long-player from First Aid Kit since Stay Gold in 2014, is due out on Friday, Jan. 19th. As has become somewhat customary in today’s music-marketing world, quite a few of the album’s songs have already seen official release – instead of a stand-alone single released a month or two ahead of the album, some acts now release three or more individual tracks over a period of months. It’s just the way it is.

The downside: If the songs aren’t strong, they can lessen one’s expectations of the album. And, too, the availability of those early tracks can and do diminish what should be a series of welcome surprises on release day. Instead of hitting play and being amazed (or, sometimes, dismayed) by the music seeping from the speakers, it’s somewhat akin to a fill-in-the-blank exercise. The knowns can overshadow the unknowns on first listen, in other words, giving a false sense of the album’s overall strength or weakness.

The upside, at least in the case of Klara and Johanna Söderberg: New songs! Good songs! And cool videos! The four early songs all sound great to my ears – “Fireworks,” especially, seems destined to be embedded in playlists for decades to come.

And, with all that said, here’s a roundup of songs (both TV appearances and aforementioned cool videos) from Ruins:

1) “It’s a Shame” – FAK appeared on The Graham Norton Show in the UK last week. (Stay tuned after the song for a brief interview with them.)

2) “Fireworks” – The official video:

3) “Postcard” – An official video. The song sounds like a lost country treasure from the ‘70s.

4) “Ruins.” Another official video, from the same set as “Postcard.” The title track from the album is a meditation on a relationship gone wrong; and it’s a low-key wonder.

And here’s a clip that captures a cool cover that, hopefully, First Aid Kit will include in their set on their forthcoming tour. (It features the Tallest Man on Earth who, at least from afar, looks shorter than Johanna. )

5) “Graceland” –

And, finally, a very cool and illuminating two-part interview with the sisters Söderberg: