The Lowdown: In 2018, it’s rare to see a folk rock group whose career started this decade thrive on a major label and hold marquee placement at major music festivals around the world, especially one who didn’t follow in the footsteps of the Mumfords or Avetts. Nearly 10 years removed from their viral Fleet Foxes cover, sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg embrace turmoil on their most ambitious album yet, a wide-ranging foray into new territories for the band.
The Good: Having already mastered heartland folk on their previous records, the Swedish band strike gold dipping their toes into the realms of ‘70s rock (“It’s a Shame”), blissful dream pop (“Fireworks”), and coal miner country (“Postcards”). Inspired partly by the end of Klara’s engagement, Ruins shines when the sisters adopt a sharp focus, like on standout “Hem of Her Dress”, where a bitter kiss-off erupts into a raucous campfire sing-along complete with resounding horns that find a glimpse of real catharsis.
The Bad: As much as they push towards new directions, even name checking a Beach House lyric, First Aid Kit rely on crutches too often. Especially in the album’s second half, they tend to lean towards broad moments, rousing choruses filled with harmonies that dull by the fourth time around. Even when they embark on something different, like the plaintive, acoustic “To Live a Life”, it ends as an overproduced ballad, losing its distinction.
The Verdict: While not their best, Ruins certainly stands as First Aid Kit’s most cohesive album, focused on the determination of moving forward from heartbreak. The Soderbergs do take some risks, but too often play it safe. Perhaps the moments where they break away from a formula emphasize that one is there in the first place. An enjoyable record, Ruins should play well in the festival setting that they command with poise, pleasant from a distance, never fully engrossing.
Essential Tracks: “It’s a Shame”, “Fireworks”, and “Hem of Her Dress”