“We were only inches away but still I had a long way to go” sings New Zealander Hollie Fullbrook on the opening title track of her new album. It’s a hallmark of Tiny Ruins songs, those lines that hang in the air with poetry and grace, cutting to the heart of her emotional vignettes. Fullbrook is Tiny Ruins in the same way that Sam Beam is Iron & Wine. She writes the music and lyrics and a live show can be either her or with the full band.
Pulling primarily from English folk music, Fullbrook has a wonderful sense of timing and space in her music. It never feels hurried or overcrowded and yet, on close listening, there’s a plethora of detail to get lost in – the bass and glockenspiel on ‘School Of Design’, the light flurries of percussion on ‘Sparklers’ or the dancing violin on ‘One Million Flowers’. It’s a tapestry of sound in a sense, one built with great sensitivity and tasteful arrangements.
Affairs of the heart populate Fullbrook’s songs. “How much would you be willing to give, how much do you take from all of this, how much before you’re stranded” she sings on ‘How Much’. She conducts a forensic study of how people, places and experiences impact and shape one’s heart and mind, often with a sense of her being a silent observer.
This might all sound a tad heavy going but Fullbrook’s way with melody provides a mellifluous, dreamy tone across the album. It’s wistful and melancholic without ever becoming morose. On a song such as ‘Hologram’ she takes the chorus to a gorgeous high and weightless note before returning to the ground for the verses. It’s a simple yet highly effective example of her ability to shape the mood of her songs via her magical voice.
All of Tiny Ruins’ albums have been splendid affairs but Olympic Girls is the strongest manifestation of Fullbrook’s artistic vision to date.