Folk-tinged indie rock is renowned for beautiful lyrics, intricate melodies, and stunning collaborations. It’s a style that’s held the spotlight inside indie circles for years, with good reason. Current stars such as Sharon Van Etten released her fifth album; Remind Me Tomorrow, just weeks ago. Van Etten goes for soul-crushing while experimenting with haunting, cinematic synth-led tracks. Last year’s For My Crimes by Marissa Nadler is equally haunting, albeit in much more subtle light. Just last week, Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst teamed up as Better Oblivion Community Center, delivering their intimate debut album that showcases both of their unique types of storytelling. Here enters Tiny Ruins, originally a moniker for New Zealand singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook.
Subsequent to the release of debut full-length, Some Were Meant For Sea, in 2011, Tiny Ruins opened for Fleet Foxes and toured internationally with Beach House. Cass Basil (bass) and Alexander Freer (drums) later made Tiny Ruins an ensemble, in turn recording the second album, Brightly Painted One, in 2014. Tiny Ruins were bestowed Best Alternative Album for Brightly Painted One at the New Zealand Music Awards in late 2014. Tiny Ruins wistful new album, Olympic Girls, out today, is the next big indie folk album of 2019.
Hollie Fullbrook’s world-weariness is simultaneously cynical and endearing. In the title track, she matter-of-factly states, “you’ll never find a thing if you can’t lose yourself, every once in a while.” Wrapped up in imaginative folksy guitar lines evocative of art films, the cool vocal delivery by Fullbrook lessens the harmony of the melodies. The captivating “School of Design” is perhaps Tiny Ruins most bewitching track yet, painting an image of a real-life experience of Fullbrook’s as she fights to discover new ways out of “the confining nature of systems.” In stand out track, “How Much,” Fullbrook delicately but firmly asks, “how much would you be willing to give?” The slight melancholy of the track closes with a creepy bass outro, further lending to the track’s unusual yet dreamy feel. Tiny Ruins bandmate and Olympic Girls producer, Tom Healy, propels the 11 lovely folk tracks with a faint hint of psychedelic influence. Olympic Girls expands Tiny Ruins scope, introducing dream pop to accompany their natural folk roots.
Take the breathy daydreams of “Holograms” paired with “Kore Waits in the Underworld,” which is boosted by bright chimes and mellotron. “Kore Waits in the Underworld” is reminiscent of Radiohead’s hit, “No Surprises,” whilst the beautiful “Holograms” invokes timelessness, a conversation. Fullbrook explains:
Where one person posits the idea that technology will increasingly connect us… That we will not just be emotionally or mentally connected, but that our bodies will transcend physical and mortal bounds via technology. That we can bring someone back.
It’s a lofty concept for a single song to tackle, but “Holograms” is treated with such care that it just works. “Kore Waits in the Underground” roots itself in the mystical. However, there’s another song with psychedelic roots that may be even more impressive.
“One Million Flowers” is that track. It’s just grand. Tiny Ruins dip their toes into the experimental once more, then try out baroque, all coming back to Hollie Fullbrook and her comfortable acoustic guitar. This is where we hear the band’s multiple inspirations, from Kate Bush, to Bob Dylan, to David Lynch (a fan of Tiny Ruins, who also produced 2016 single, “Dream Wave”). “One Million Flowers” was partially inspired by a Van Gogh painting. As Fullbrook shared with The Seventh Hex, she aimed to:
…bring to mind the feeling of explosive colors and broad strokes – and this was the way that I felt I wanted this album to pan out once I wrote that one song.
It’s a wildly thrilling track, and the following song, “My Love Leda,” also trails that bombastic feel with its strange chord progressions. It’s fair to say that the second half of Olympic Girls is further unconventional than the first. It sees Tiny Ruins explore different sides of the band. “As the darkness grows, here’s hoping I never drift away from you,” Fullbrook croons, almost drifting away herself, in “Stars, False, Fading.” Reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, “Stars, False, Fading” retains the woozy dreaminess Olympic Girls thrives in.
Olympic Girls is enchanting. Hollie Fullbrook’s pure vocals are always warm and hold every song together. Potent, structurally intricate instrumentation, while never overly complex, allows tracks like “One Million Flowers” to twist and turn into unanticipated directions. Fullbrook treats conventional folk music with the utmost respect. But, with Olympic Girls, she proves that there’s more to Tiny Ruins than the simplicity they’re known for. Olympic Girls is exquisite in its seemingly effortless nature. The thing I’m personally most curious and excited for, you may or may not be asking? Well, where will Tiny Ruins go from here? I can’t wait to find out.