Defiantly quiet, minimal music that whispers to tell its enveloping stories.
Daniel Ross 2011
It’s apt the first line of Kiwi Hollie Fullbrook’s debut album as Tiny Ruins is, "Lean in friend, and I’ll tell you a tale." Much like the ramblings of a weathered elder, her songs are best given full attention, and it’s absolutely nothing like work to do so. They take a defiantly quiet, minimal approach to music and a maximalist palate to her words, and are barely accompanied by the softest acoustic guitar and only occasional backing vocals. In fact, to its credit, the simplicity of the music in these songs recalls Leonard Cohen’s great Songs of Leonard Cohen, and also the attention paid to the lyrics.
And as successful as it is in striking and maintaining that balance, it’s a trick that we see so often nailed by singer-songwriters these days. The fast-ripening adage that it’s more worth your while to quieten down if you want to be heard is something exploited fully on Some Were Meant for Sea, and Fullbrook is reluctant to muster anything louder than a whisper to make her points. Good thing too, really, seeing as the stories themselves are so intriguing.
Nautical references throughout pine for an imagined idyll, characters are drawn roundly and sweetly, and it’s difficult not to be enveloped in them. In particular, Pigeon Knows impresses thanks to its careful eking out of a dream-like experience across a substantial six-minute span, with only a piano and almost-imperceptible drones underneath for company. The concluding waltz of Bird in the Thyme also gently lets on fragment after fragment until the lyrical picture is complete, in rather a similar fashion to Nina Nastasia, another master of restraint.
Whether or not you’re sick of craning your neck to hear moulding singer-songwriter tales, there are pockets of interest aplenty to enjoy here. There are also forerunners aplenty to the style, but if anything works in Fullbrook’s favour it’s that she’s obeyed the rules of the genre and managed to tautly weave her stories within it. So lean in close and pay attention to all those gorgeous vignettes – you’ll be glad you did.