Browsing mindlessly through music videos, one in particular caught my eye. The small featured image on the right side bar depicted two females, done up strangely in 80s-like makeup. But it was not perms that was so out of the ordinary, but rather both of their intensely forlorn gazes. Not disinterested, not depressed, the two girls stared out of the screen like two china dolls—almost as if they were accepting some sad fate.
The video was “Fireworks” from Swedish sister-duo Johanna and Klara Söderberg’s musical duo First Aid Kit. The visuals told the old-time story of a high school prom, complete with the wanted jock, the popular prom queen, and the awkward girl on the outsider. However, the tone is melancholic as each character looks like they crave something else entirely their their present reality. Neon earrings and enlarged chiffon dresses filled the screen, but were edited with a golden filter, giving the video a reminiscent attitude. Like a memory, each image was hazy with ambiguity.
The vocals from the Söderbergs have Florence and the Machine’s airy-quality, but then smash down with a Stevie Nicks or almost Kate Bush-like forcefulness. While First Aid Kit is technically classified in the Folk genre, the band’s flexibility and borrowing from outside influencers should not pigeonhole their style. Trying to place my finger on it, First Aid Kit’s sound could be called the child of a Maggie Rogers female solo act with Fleet Foxes harmonies that progress their songs forward with movement and energy.
Evident in “Fireworks” and other tracks off of their new album Ruins, First Aid Kit combine the free-flowing nature of folk music with heart-wrenching crooning of country and lay a steady foundation with strong rock chords. Ruins, released of Jan. 19 of this year, brings in experimental elements of sound that were not seen on the sister’s previous albums and EPs. In the introductory track, “Rebel Heart,” the band places importance on a typical drum beat but stay true to their folk roots by demonstrating a wide vocal range and harmonizing ability.
Each of their lyrics are charming and incredibly relatable to the average listener, as the sisters write about human mistakes in love and life. As the Söderbergs sing out “Why do I do this to myself, every time?” in “Fireworks,” the sadness of the song does not overpower the urge when listening to sway and waltz alone, perhaps with a disco-ball shining down from above. The interconnectivity of the sisters make the tracks even better to listen to, as their relationship can be heard through their harmonies and vocal tension. First Aid Kit may seem like an already professional duo, but it is surprising to know that they almost did not come back together after a short hiatus due to the pressure of touring.
On Jan. 25, First Aid Kit spoke to the Chicago Tribune regarding the tired times of the last tour in 2014 for their album “Stay Gold.”
“‘It [the stress from touring] just came to us in different ways, having breakdowns, crying on stage, feeling it was too much,” Johanna Söderberg said. “We’re very different. I’m driven, ambitious, and I think I pushed Klara too hard. We decided together we needed a break, and it was really hard for me to do that. I got restless and struggled with the down time, but we both needed that space. We didn’t speak for months. We had to have a divorce before we could write music again.”
Thankfully their short ‘divorce’ ended, and the sisters reconvened in Los Angeles in 2016 and began to piece together the lyrics they had written while separated, as Johanna stayed in Stockholm while Klara went to live in Manchester, England. The sisters have stated in many interviews that they bring out the best in each other’s songwriting, working collaboratively to create organic tracks. Ruins has already caused a commotion amongst fans of the duo, as many hail their new-found sound.
While First Aid Kit’s fans mainly hail from Göteborg, Stockholm, and Norway, the duo are quickly bleeding into the American music industry. With partnerships with artists such as Jack White and Conor Oberst, First Aid Kit have come a long way from their teenage-bedroom recording studio. Ruins came at the perfect time to shout First Aid Kit’s name from the rooftops, to give the Söderbergs deserved limelight in this new year.