Fantastic Albums to Listen to: Ruins by First Aid Kit

With ethereal echoing vocals, First Aid Kit’ album Ruins embodies heartbreak, loneliness, hope, independence and strength, all through a series of breakup songs. The vocals are intangible, almost celestial, and when hearing this album, the listener is transported to another time, or even to another world. To say Ruins is just a breakup album would be doing it a great disservice. The songs in this album do not simply mourn the loss of a lover, they embody the heart’s movement forward after heartbreak. The listener is forced to imagine, to feel and to relive the times that they have overcome heartbreak, and face their own fears and insecurities. While I imagine bittersweet  nights spent wandering under the stars counting fireflies (my own response to endings and heartbreak), the reaction to Ruins is determined by the listener themselves, and their own experiences with heartbreak.

Ruins transcends a single moment of heartbreak, and instead is a series of songs focusing on endings, and emotions that one grapples with after loss. While a listener after a breakup would likely be in tears at the sorrow expressed in the vocals, someone who is happily single could see it as a joyful reclamation of independence. The experience is determined by which stage of moving on, and moving past sorrow, that the listener is in. 

 Each song presents a different interpretation of heartbreak and loss, presenting different ways of moving past heartbreak and endings, towards strength and independence.

“Rebel Heart” focuses on the pain of  loving someone who is gone, giving into a crescendo of instruments, a joyful expression of what comes after. 

“The Hem of Her Dress” expresses the pain of being left for someone else, but undercuts the feeling of isolation initially presented when the entire band joins together to sing, creating a cacophony of hope found within togetherness. 

“To Live a Life” embraces moving on after heartbreak and finding joy in being alone, but even then the two voices stand together, supporting each other. Each interpretation of love and heartbreak is different, and adds its own commentary on what love can be.

In Ruins, heartbreak is not overcome alone, even when it feels like it is. This is the most striking part of Ruins; the conflict between isolation and togetherness. While some phrases in each song are sung solo, ultimately Ruins showcases Johanna and Klara Soderberg’s voices merged into one. Neither sister is alone in her heartbreak; the loss and the sorrow that results from it is carried by both. The loss in Ruins is perhaps the most honest and comforting way to represent heartbreak, and presents the message that even when we feel alone, even when we are at our worst -our most heartbroken - we are carried and supported by those that we love and who love us. 

When we consider the fraying of the sisters’ relationship in 2015, the meaning behind this album becomes even more powerful. Johanna and Klara stand together as one in their combined vocals, but their identities remain separate. The heartbreak and despair that led to them taking a break from each other and First Aid Kit is simultaneously being acknowledged and repaired. The songs within Ruins are love songs Johanna and Klara have written as a way to repair their relationship, and reclaim themselves.

Ruins picks up what was left behind in 2015 and remakes it; however, but if you’re expecting a continuation of Stay Gold, then you would be gravely mistaken. Instead, Ruins marks a return to the classic folk/country sounds of The Big Black and the Blue, and The Lion’s Roar. Showcasing their strong vocals, both as individuals and as a duo, this album is a reclamation of the First Aid Kit’s roots. Their riveting and expressive vocals are the diamonds within this album, and they are allowed to shine. Every syllable is drawn out, every phrase moving through pitches exquisitely. The First Aid Kit’s vocals manipulate the listener through emotions as quickly as their voices change pitches. Sometimes slow and melodic, sometimes to the beat of a heart, the sorrowful and honest lyrics combined with unearthly vocals creates an experience that is truly emotional, and draws the listener along for a journey through heartbreak.

In all the ways that matter this album is the First Aid Kit for breakups. Any listener that has experienced loss or heartbreak recently, or ever, can find comfort in Ruins. Whether they are sobbing along to the lyrics, or singing joyfully in bittersweet remembrance, the listener can lose themselves in every syllable, every lyric, every key of every song within this album. After all, that is exactly what this album is about: picking oneself out of the ruins and remaking themselves. Whether this means starting right back from the beginning, returning to one's roots, or totally remaking oneself, it depends on the listener. How you repair yourself after heartbreak is up to you, but Ruins is the perfect album in which to find the strength to begin to do so.