With its release following their 2014 major-label debut, Stay Gold, by nearly four years, the Söderberg sisters of First Aid Kit began work on their fourth album after taking a break from music. In the meantime, Klara had moved back home to Stockholm from Manchester, England following a broken engagement. The resulting Ruins takes on heavy-hearted subject matter inspired by working through the personal aftermath. Still, fans of Stay Gold will find a familiar bright, assertive sound, with Klara and Johanna's trademark tandem vocals bringing a certain air of resiliency to an unexpectedly lively set of songs. Ruins marks a first-time collaboration with producer Tucker Martine, whose résumé includes bands such as My Morning Jacket, the Decemberists, and Blind Pilot, and performances are bolstered by backing musicians that include the likes of R.E.M's Peter Buck, Wilco's Glen Kotche, Midlake's McKenzie Smith, and LAKE's Eli Moore. The self-doubting opener, "Rebel Heart," sets the stage with a haunting folk-rock that features instruments like pedal steel, organ, tambourine, and Buck's eBow guitar among its sepia-shaded palette. A more confident, uptempo track, "It's a Shame" shows signs of mettle with advice like "No point in wasting sorrow/On things that won't be here tomorrow." These early tracks help establish a musical sprightliness that holds course for most of the album, even the heartbroken country ballad "Postcard" ("I wasn’t looking for trouble but trouble came/I wasn’t looking to change, I’ll never be the same"). Ruins is never complacent, though, keeping its rough, rustic edges, and allowing for the sounds of fingers on frets on quieter tunes like "To Live a Life." Lyrics don't put on a false front, either, and that's ultimately what makes the album linger -- from a title track that leaves us "Standing amongst ticket stubs and written notes and photographs" to a closer that loses track of time in search of a place that feels like home.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson