First Aid Kit have enjoyed a great deal of success since the release of The Lion’s Roar — their finest work — as they continue to act as a suitable entry point for newcomers of folk and Americana. The Söderberg sisters sing with clarity and grace, engaging in wonderful harmonies that float across well-crafted instrumentals. Ruins retains the same formula, but it’s difficult to get truly enthused given the sheer safety of its build.
“Rebel Heart” is an encouraging opening number, benefitting from the momentum that its dynamic percussion provokes, before gliding into a crowning outro topped with a satisfying brass section. “Fireworks” is another early highlight that showcases the duo’s ability to craft charming arrangements, equipped with a vocal melody that is very, very gorgeous indeed. The novelty soon wears off, however, with a long spree of tracks that seem too content in sailing by without causing too much of a hassle.
Ruins almost seems afraid to upset its listener, often lacking the bite that was found in previous records. Whilst no means a bad song, “Postcard” is a country ballad so generic that it may as well have been written by Lurleen Lumpkin. And that’s fine — Lurleen was a hit after all — but she was also a stereotype.
First Aid Kit have set a considerable standard in their composition, and Ruins lacks the creativity that we have come to expect. The record opts for expansive arrangements that focus on fancy ornamentation, and it rarely pays off as much as it should. It settles for being pleasant and pretty. We all know First Aid Kit can go further than that.
6 out of 10
Ruins is a place where life is found to be beautiful, there are harmonies and steel pedal guitars, and the landscape isn’t terribly memorable. That’s the long and short of it. Beyond being a space for people to be pleased with themselves for finding life beautiful I don’t understand why this exists. I can’t hear any other reason.
On the whole the songwriting is loose, and when a few decent hooks and melodies do get strung together they’re let down by the mixing. The vocals are really out in front and it doesn’t sit right. The instrumentals are reduced to filler, the tracks made tight and confined. First Aid Kit’s previous achievements showed that their sound benefits from spacious mixes and back and forth with the instrumentation, and Ruins achieves neither.
Artists can and should take their voice to different plains, but I don’t hear exploration on Ruins; I hear safety. I hear Americana in pristine studios with air conditioning, and I can’t reconcile that with stripped to the bone spiritual wanderings across the cosmos. Rather than being affecting, here First Aid Kit seem to take pleasure in the staggering realisation that humans are capable of being affected by things and how lovely is that. Isn’t life a trip, boys and girls?
That’s fine. The album’s brand of comfortable and pleasant can work, and I daresay it will for plenty of listeners, but I don’t care much for it. First Aid Kit are usually such a breath of fresh air was because they don’t sound like they do on Ruins.
6 out of 10
I’ve always had a soft spot for First Aid Kit. Having proven themselves to be an impressive force on stage over the last decade, I have a lot of time for new material from the Swedish folk duo. Certainly, the first third of Ruins delivers, with a striking opener that brings with it beautiful harmonies and a busy instrumental, followed by a further couple of tracks which are very much in the duo’s wheelhouse, but still feel distinctive and have somewhat of a punch to them.
Unfortunately, from this point forward, I’m not greatly captured by a lot of the tracklist. While “Postcard” is bold enough, it also relies on Country tropes, heavily enough that it begins to feel a little trite. Other tracks thankfully don’t suffer from this at all and, individually, make for a lot of beautiful listening. “To Live a Life” is a particular favourite.
Still, when listening back to the duo’s earlier work, such as “To a Poet” from their 2012 release The Lion’s Roar, which hits the mark in its rich character and progression, I realise that many tracks on Ruins fall short in this regard. It lacks a certain bite that the best of their previous material has in spades. As a result, I often find myself drifting around the midpoint of the album and not resurfacing until the final two tracks. “Hem of Her Dress” and “Nothing Has to Be True” are captivating songs that develop into great cacophonies of sound in their own individual ways.
It’s a great shame that I’m not able to throw buckets of praise at this album, as I always look forward to First Aid Kit releases. Ultimately, Ruins stands as an enjoyable, yet slightly safe entry into the band’s discography.
6 out of 10