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Tiny Ruins - Album Review: Ceremony

27 Apr 2023 // A review by Roger Bowie

Covid is still all around, but the alienation and dysfunction has gone, yet here we are, still salvaging the experiences of just before and during the world of hidden people and silent things. We’ve just experienced the hero’s journey of Finn Andrews as he comes out of the void to find love, and now we are simply blessed by the pain in the lyrics of the songs which Hollie Fullbrook started writing four years ago and longer and now find catharsis in the music of Tiny Ruins.

There is a sad story and a happy outcome here, but we need not explore the circumstances out of pure respect for the Tiny Ruins new album Ceremony, out today, April 28th. For three things can and indeed must be said from the outset: this is the most accessible and gorgeous effort yet (the three prior records have each been gorgeous, but not so accessible); because of the deep poetic lyricism of the words of Hollie Fullbrook, sometimes obscure, sometimes direct, sung to beautiful and often unpredictable melodies, brought to life by the weaving and swirling and diving and soaring and driving rhythms and percussive energy with a hint of jazz and funk and Grateful Dead which characterises the sound; and finally the arrival of Tiny Ruins the band being the sum which is greater than the parts and we are indeed blessed.

Delicate folk for delicate folk from delicate folk introduces the first song, Dogs Dreaming. Don’t tell us what we already know, there’s joy and exuberance evident from the get-go, masking the tension in the trip to the other side of the bay, for the first time, a sense of freedom and confidence which conceals feelings of wariness and fate and pain. Hollie confesses the obvious, she always did know what to paint in an empty room, but put her outside in the open, she discovers that her band know how to paint anywhere. “it stings to be there, but I go there all the time” reminds us of why she ventured there in the first place. And dogs do dream and paws do run to the beat of the drum

Daylight Savings, thanks to the benefit of a lyric sheet (thank you Ladies!!) is not so esoteric as it might sound, but even if so, the rhythms are friendly and positive, even if you don’t quite get the joke. They were never funny anyway, those jokes which morning made about daylight savings, but now they are history and the pain subsides with renewal.

Sandy Denny takes over vocals evoking nature and the seaside and the rocky shore and the muddy creeks into which her thoughts tumble. The music is heavier, more sinister in tone, yet her heart continues to rally, with an apple cored, clams and oyster shells crunching, and cicadas rallying to sustain her spirits, still Diving and Soaring.

In The Light of Everything is a pretty little song about pain and confusion and writers block, or maybe the emotions are too raw to share, and Hollie beseeches her muse, which arrives, or rather who arrives, accompanied  by the music which is affirming and upbeat with fabulous percussion from Alex and a kaleidoscope of sound which confirms, in the light of everything, that this is truly a band.

The next song seems a bit Out of Phase, perhaps a confession of being on the wrong side of a disagreement which Hollie has herself provoked and the gentle recovery to reason orchestrated by her partner and masterful, ebullient, psychedelic sound. Hollie plays cello to confirm.

The imagery of Dorothy Bay is a recurrent theme with consistent imagery of sea, bay, wind, sky and stars which characterise many of Hollie Fullbrook songs, but Tiny Ruins add a Crazy Horse feel to the song especially the intro and outro guitar.

Tom Healy is a sensational painter of guitar sound which decorates and embellishes, pokes and thrusts, scales and grunts, and embroiders with delicate thread. Cass Basil adds deeply coloured funk with jazz tinges and is always busy with her brush, and Alex Freer exploits all percussive options to complete the kaleidoscope of Tiny Ruins. We saw the progression of this band at the live gigs last year, and now they are cement. We should build roads like this. Roads to somewhere.

Seafoam Green has a light and breezy intro and Hollie plays electric, with coy reference in the context of building and cementing a relationship, to the Stones and the Beatles: “Gimme shelter on the helter skelter” (aren’t words wonderful?).  A subtle lyrical shift from me to us tells us that it’s all working out just fine.

Hollie picking the frets on Earthly Things and Tom floating in and around with sharp but melodic scales which turn on and out, there’s that subtle psychedelic tinge again. Earthly things turn the light on my love, and but the thought that arrives is just the busy-ness of the sound in and around the melody. That’s the sound of Tiny Ruins, busy-ness. Their business is busy-ness.

Dear Annie invokes Joni, she’s got it made. But Annie is lost, and it’s hard to stay a friend, but it’s just a matter of waiting too long. And it Sounds Like a warning, and it sounds like a spiritual quest, to comprehend what we’re all in here for.  The two songs are a little oblique, unless one picks a context, an overall context, in the spirit of the hero’s (heroines?) journey.

For here we are at the end, and the Crab/Waterboy song, wherein she finds a crab upside down, cast in a manner of wishing to offload its shell, which becomes a metaphor for the human condition. You can run but you cannot hide, someone is going to penetrate your translucent and permeable shell.

Turning the crab right side up, it scuttles away with a sideways glance that looks like gratitude, but who knows if a crab feels grateful? Life just goes on. And from that simple experience arises a sense of spirituality which requires codification into ritual and ceremony.

Perhaps this concludes Hollies hero’s journey, because this is what she does, turn everyday experiences and real-life pain into a spiritual event. Ritual and ceremony.

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )

About Tiny Ruins

Tiny Ruins are a band based in Auckland, New Zealand. Conceived in 2009 by songwriter Hollie Fullbrook to describe her solo output, the group now includes Cass Basil, Alex Freer & Tom Healy. Traversing early influences of folk and blues, Tiny Ruins’ sound draws on ethereal and grungy soundscapes alike. Sometimes likened to Nick Drake, Mazzy Star or Nico, Fullbrook’s voice and guitar work evades cliché, making use of alternate tunings by way of her own self-styled fingerpicking. Lyrically one of a kind, stories are laced with a dark humour that is at times disarmingly confessional, at others, cryptic and philosophical.

Fullbrook was born in Bristol, England, before moving to New Zealand with her family at the age of ten and settling in West Auckland. She learnt the cello from a young age, picking the guitar up and writing songs in her early teenage years. Asked to support Alasdair Roberts in Sydney, May 2010, she was signed to Australian indie label Spunk Records on the strength of some demos. Tiny Ruins’ debut Some Were Meant For Sea was released in 2011 and saw critical praise for its minimalist approach & lyrical flair. Recorded by Fullbrook and producer Greg ‘J’ Walker (Machine Translations) in a small hall in South Gippsland, the album was voted 2011’s Album of the Year by BBC World Service arts & culture programme ‘World of Music’ and was a finalist for New Zealand’s Taite Prize in 2012. Tours of New Zealand, Australia & Europe followed, with Fullbrook performing solo, and later as a duo with Cass Basil on upright bass, supporting The Handsome Family throughout the UK.

Joining forces with drummer Alex Freer, Tiny Ruins evolved into a three-piece, recording a bluesy EP, Haunts, together in the Waipu bush, before working with Tom Healy at The Lab in Auckland on their second album, Brightly Painted One. Championed by the New York Times, NPR and David Lynch, it won Best Alternative Album at the New Zealand Music Awards in 2014, and saw a joint release by labels Bella Union, Spunk Records and Flying Nun.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Tiny Ruins


Year: 2023
Type: Album
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Year: 2019
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Year: 2015
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Brightly Painted One
Year: 2014
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Year: 2013
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Year: 2011
Type: Album
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Year: 2010
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