written by Chris Familton
With modern technology making everything so accessible these days it is easy to become blasé about music – such is the deluge of acts touted as the ‘next big thing’ and just the sheer volume of music being released. In that environment it comes as a pleasant surprise when you slide yet another CD into the player and are instantly jolted to attention by the sound coming out of the speakers. Such an event happened with the new Tiny Ruins album Some Were Meant For Sea.
Tiny Ruins is New Zealand singer/songwriter Hollie Fullbrook who has just released this, her debut album. Fullbrook plays folk music that is tender, literate and full of beauty. Like most folk music it is also melancholic and not afraid to touch on darker subject matter. The album is solely hers in creation and was recorded in South Gippsland, Australia late last year.
From the opening notes the immediate comparison is with Jolie Holland, another singer who wraps her voice around vowels and caresses and stretches them outside the normal parameters. Fullbrook’s voice has a grain with a touch of weariness that makes her singing sound worn, husky and heavy with emotion though still with a sweet innocence attached.
The other string to Tiny Ruins’ bow is her way with words and the creation of fantastical scenes that either succeed as magically visual vignettes or as colourful metaphors for simple assessments of the human soul. Priest With Balloons is a wonderful tale that includes a true story of a priest that floated out to sea clutching a bunch of helium balloons. As crazy as the story is, Fullbrook’s approach is to not just present the scenario but to question why he did it. She goes on to sing about billboards painted over with colours and courts fining people with numbers of roses. The song gives the album its title and sums up one of her central ponderings about life’s journey and where it all ends.
Elsewhere on the album Fullbrook touches on Russian literary figures, an apartment block in Wellington she used to walk past and imagine its inhabitants and a simple tale of a cat in a hallway that represents so much more. Though the album has a wild array of scenes and characters it at first sounds quite homogenous with songs blending into one another, mainly due to the pacing of the songs and the sparse instrumentation. The album is a definite grower though with each song slowly finding its place as it seeps into your brain and heart. Little turns of phrase and vocal melodies like the one at the end of Just Desserts are just some of the ways this album states its case as an extremely special collection of songs and a quite stunning debut release.
this review was first published on The Dwarf