Ba Da Bing!
Where the first two full-lengthers and EPs felt like Tiny Ruins was merely the name of a project to house the songs of the very talented Hollie Fullbrook, the proof of the live shows has been the slow-simmering of Tiny Ruins The Band – its members fully integrating across the records to date to arrive now, together at Olympic Girls. A subtly captivating slice of magic that uses the great skills of Hollie’s near-perfect voice, superb fingerpicking and evocative, metaphorical lyrics to promote a now very-full band sound.
This is the best from Tiny Ruins. As it should be in an artist’s career – each record should improve, should seek new ground. And so it is here. And it’s thanks not just to Fullbrook but to bassist Cass Basil, keyboardist Finn Scholes, drummer Alex Freer and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Tom Healy.
We open in familiar territory – with the title track referencing Fullbrook’s love of Nick Drake in the guitar line but with a vocal that is more the continuation of the Tiny Ruins/Hamish Kilgour EP; the first proof that Tiny Ruins was seeking to move outside of the perfect box its sound had been contained in.
Here we also hear the lithe band in support – this is a backing unit that has worked across several years to truly define the sound, to in fact become the sound. You can feel different moving parts but the sound arrives as if it’s one whole unit, thinking and moving together.
Much of the tone and mood of Olympic Girls is such that you have to think back to the pastoral folk meets sepia-toned psychedelia of the late 1960s – were it not for Tiny Ruins already being on the radar of so many you could almost make a case for this as being some lost classic, those folk/prog-type records that reissue labels unearth and everyone’s then in the race to say that, actually, they remember the name from 1968 or 1972 they just ‘never got around’ to getting the vinyl LP the first time…
School of Design, also a link back to the earliest Tiny Ruins material in some ways, presents a Leonard Cohen-style of intro and vocal melody with Fullbrook subverting the spoken-sung Cohen trope, creating a beguiling song out of – seemingly – nothing. Such is her magic touch.
It’s the third song, How Much, where we start to hear the ‘new sound’, time spent with Bic Runga and Neil Finn has rubbed off; Fullbrook seems the sort of writer to always have her notebook on her, to be forever re-collecting then reshaping mental notes.
And there is an inescapable comparison to Laura Marling – here it’s most noticeable on Sparklers and Bounty; it’s in that voice and fingerpicking, the combination. And there’s nothing wrong with that comparison by the way, Marling is The Gold Standard as far as I’m concerned. She’s going in the time-capsule; she’s one of the very best. For Tiny Ruins to be anywhere near her is the highest compliment, well, that’s how it’s mean from me at least.
It’s the moments on this album such as One Million Flowers where the true depth is explored though – gorgeous sunshine-textures in place of the autumnal hues of introspection. This is Fullbrook and Tiny Ruins opening the window of the bedsit, not just peeking around the corner but taking a big stroll through the garden.
By the time of the closer, Cold Enough to Climb, the mercurial waves of this music are still rolling – it’s something to be swept away by, to be swept away with. A nearly perfect album. The best Tiny Ruins music to date.
That I can’t quite accurately describe my feelings listening to this album – why I think it’s so good, so very wonderful – is in fact the true power of its secret magic.