Genre: Folk-rock, Singer-songwriter
New Zealand is presently enjoying a very strong crop of female asinger-songwriters. Along with Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins, we also have the weirdness of Aldous Harding and the imagery-laden writing of Nadia Reid. Pop superstar Lorde isn’t a singer-songwriter but shares the introspection of her contemporaries.
Hollie Fullbrook was born in England, but emigrated to New Zealand as a 10 year old. Songwriting began as therapy for Fullbrook, a way of coping with her sudden disconnection from friends at the other side of the world. Since 2010, Fullbrook has recorded as Tiny Ruins, firstly an alias and then a band. Olympic Girls is Tiny Ruins’ third full length album, and their first as a four-piece.
Tiny Ruins’ gentle folk-rock suits Fullbrook’s pure voice. She cites 1960s influences like Pentangle, Love, and early Jethro Tull. While the dominant instrumentation is the interweaving guitar picking, textures like Mellotron, Hammond organ, and vibraphone also recall the 1960s.
Olympic Girls introduces new musical elements for Fullbrook. Second guitarist Tom Healy adds another layer to their sound, while lead single ‘How Much’ features a surprisingly chunky bass tone and solo. But the focus is squarely on Fullbrook’s ethereal vocals and delicate melodies. Olympic Girls can feel frustratingly subtle and restrained at times, but it’s a gorgeous record that’s worth spending time unpacking.
Fullbrook has talked about how all of her lyrics are personal. It might seem far-fetched that this verse from standout track ‘Holograms’ relates to her own experiences:
I saw the grim reaper
And I gave him the slip
Saved by a Darth Vader novelty helmet
But how will I find you again
When all I’m seeing are stars?
It turns out that it’s a true story; Fullbrook has spoken in interviews about a 2011 incident in Zanzibar. She crashed a motorbike in a rainforest, while wearing a Darth Vader novelty helmet, breaking three bones.
Olympic Girls is beautiful and beguiling. With its gentle dynamics, a lot of its appeal comes from Fullbrook’s story telling and pretty vocals, but it’s nice to be enveloped in its warm embrace.