Ruins marks the fourth full-length outing by drummer Kevin O’Connor and multi-instrumentalist Lisa Molinaro. If you’ve been following them all along, then you should be fairly well-prepared for what you find here: that now-familiar collision of hip-hop drumbeats and coruscating synth overlayed with the lush, regal sounds of Molinaro’s electric violin (though, unless I’m mishearing, the banjo seems curiously absent from this set). As per usual, the results are uniformly pleasing, if not altogether new or exciting.
The group manages a few attention-getting turns within their chosen modus operandi. Album opener “Slumber Verses” creates some very tasty tension between the metronomic kick drum/bass beat and Molinaro’s heavily layered violin. The two elements discretely duke it out for roughly two minutes, until the violin, worn down at last by its implacable adversary, collapses into a series of recursive loops as O’Connor introduces some snare into the mix, dragging the song towards a bombastic post-rock flourish that arrives stillborn when the song trickles off unexpectedly. Similarly engaging is “Revival,” where Molinaro teases us with some harmonic feedback for a good minute before eking out a few chords to go along with the song’s simple acoustic guitar melody. No sooner does the track start to coalesce, though, when out of nowhere swoops this ethereal synth, chiming above the euphony like Isaac Brock’s (who, in addition to releasing the album on his own label, also mixed it) mechanical birds of old.
There are other enjoyable moments — “Time Draws On” carries with it a haunted ballroom feel that reminds me of some of the more unsettling moments on The Caretaker’s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, and album closer “Palace Walk” builds up from an innocuous synth-and-violin melody to a restrained yet cathartic duet for guitar and violin — but overall, the offerings here feel a little by-the-numbers. “City Sleep” and “Midnight Pass” hint at a menace they can never quite build to. The back-to-back pairing of the lullaby-like “Summer Glass” and “Cascading” drags the middle portion of the album down. And while “Violet” begins as one of the most compositionally daring pieces on the album, its persistent repetition of monotonous synth tones and stuttering drum fills eventually surrenders to the distorted-violin-sailing-over-a-steady-drumbeat routine.
After all these years, the duo remains appealing and distinctive. Molinaro squeezes some really gorgeous tones out of her instruments, and O’Connor’s reserved drum patterns are still shrewd enough to move the album’s stronger tracks in unexpected directions. But unfortunately, there’s not much here to distinguish Ruins from the group’s previous work, and too few of these compositions stick once the album is done.