Tiny Ruins, the project of New Zealand musician Hollie Fullbrook, announces their fourth album, Ceremony, out April 28th via Marathon Artists, and shares a new single, ‘Dorothy Bay'. The follow-up to 2019’s celebrated Olympic Girls, Ceremony goes deep into all the old and murky mysteries of what it means to be human – and sometimes it nearly goes under. Yet these songs also show how you can find the strength to swim from the shipwreck, push through the silt, and surface into another new morning. Another new chance.
Ceremony washes in and takes you out like a strong tide, its songs “chapters” of a saga set on the shores of Tāmaki Makaurau's (aka Auckland’s) Manukau Harbour. Known to locals as “Old Murky,” its western fringe of the Waitākere Ranges are home to Fullbrook. And while the harbour itself is a treacherous and oft-polluted body of water, move to one of its many peaceful inlets and it’s all tidal flats, shellfish and birdlife.
“It’s beautiful but also muddy, dirty and neglected. It’s a real meeting of nature and humanity” says Hollie. The album’s songs took shape as she explored the turbulent landscape on foot with her two dogs. The things Fullbrook was struck by there are annotated across Ceremony as luminously as a naturalist’s scrapbook: a crab on its back in lead single ‘The Crab / Waterbaby’, plus seabirds and oysters, and a hedgerow maze and lighthouse. Yet Ceremony is not a watercolour ramble through the natural world: these songs are not afraid of getting earth under the nails, of digging deep into some of the hardest matters of human existence. How do you move from loss and grief to acceptance and some kind of peace? How do you live knowing that you are surrounded by forces far beyond your control?
It’s questions such as these which have spurred Fullbrook’s vivid songwriting since forming Tiny Ruins back in 2009. Sophomore album Brightly Painted One saw Fulbrook form Tiny Ruins’ long-term band line-up of Cass Basil (bass), Alex Freer (drums), and Tom Healy (electric guitar, producer). After touring Olympic Girls both solo and with her band for eighteen months, Fullbrook returned home to the banks of Little Muddy Creek, exhausted and with the global pandemic looming. The songs that would become Ceremony existed as note files, “scrappy poems,” words written earlier during a profound period of personal loss, words from a “difficult place” that she’d become adept at avoiding. When lockdown started to ease, Fullbrook went to stay in an old train carriage in the town of Raglan and spent several days forging these hard lyrics into songs. When she took them to her band, she admits she “probably played them very sadly and delicately on an acoustic guitar. I’m glad that’s not what the album is now. The first time I played these songs to the bandmates I just felt so vulnerable.” The intuitive rapport of her bandmates, however, steered these early demos in another direction, with inventive, often joyful arrangements.
With Fullbrook citing JJ Cale, Neil Young and Bill Callahan as reference points, there’s transformation at work here - taking grief and inner turmoil and rendering them into songs of rare nuance. The gravelly ‘Dorothy Bay’, the heaviest song on Ceremony, goes hand-in-hand with the looming powers out on the horizon - the shallow harbour’s dramatic tides exposing large expanses of mud twice daily are evoked. Directed by Alexander Gander, the accompanying video is an epic, psychedelic survey of the southern headland of the Manukau Harbour. It took the small crew and band two days of filming to capture the landscape in all its glory - the results are a buzzy, colour-shifting, dreamlike visual confection.
Watch Tiny Ruins’ Video for 'Dorothy Bay' - BELOW:
The songs on Ceremony may extrapolate minimal moments, but the productions are maximal, deep, complex. No moment is squandered without a clever polyrhythm, a curious harmonic tension introduced, an unexpected timbre. The intuitive weave of instrumentation - from Freer’s deft and inventive drumming and Basil’s conversational bass lines to Healy’s lightening-strikes of electric guitar - land Fullbrook’s hard songs in an blissfully warm bedrock of sound - steadied in a kind of musical trust fall.
1. Dogs Dreaming
2. Daylight Savings
3. Driving & Soaring
4. In Light Of Everything
5. Out Of Phase
6. Dorothy Bay
7. Seafoam Green
8. Earthly Things
9. Dear Annie
10. Sounds Like
11. The Crab/Waterbaby