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Tiny Ruins - Olympic Girls
A warm swell of ambient sound precedes an arpeggiated
rhythmic riff that springs into flight, exuberant and
joyful. Sparkling electric guitar punctuates the relentless
thrum of Hollie Fullbrook's acoustic, as the potent lyricism
she is known for cuts searingly through the noise - "Stirring,
shaken, all of us waking under the same cover of sky".
And so begins 'Olympic Girls', the title track of the
third long-player from Tiny Ruins. Set for release on
1 February 2019, the group's hotly anticipated next offering
is replete with vital lyricism and galvanising rhythms.
"I've heard Olympic Girls , and I had to pick my
jaw up off the floor", wrote Grant Smithies. "Clustered
around more introspective passages typical of confessional
singer-songwriters are gnarlier phrases that give her
work its buzzy voltage: arresting visual images, weird
associations, daisy-chains of telling detail."
Building on the sparse minimalism and mesmerising songwriting
of earlier releases, Olympic Girls comprises a taut and
agile quiver of songs, dancing with explorative instrumentation
and a pop sensibility that springs with life.
The album was recorded during several intense weekends
spanning many months in producer Tom Healy's small Paquin
Studio, nestled inside The Lab in Auckland's Mt. Eden.
With Healy playing electric guitar in the band since 2014,
the tracking room doubles as a practice space for Tiny
Ruins and other local bands, and is the same studio in
which they recorded 2014's Brightly Painted One, for which
Healy was nominated for Producer of the Year at the New
Zealand Music Awards.
"Where that album was condensed into two weeks of
recording, with Olympic Girls we took our time. I would
bring new songs to the band as I wrote them, and we would
experiment with the arrangements over maybe a few days,
and then quite soon after would start recording",
says Fullbrook. "It was about building something
quite epic over a long stretch of time that didn't fall
victim to overplaying or overworking. Once recorded, we
wouldn't listen to the track for months, we'd just move
onto the next one. It was only at the very end that Tom
opened the vault. Not being in a flash studio with the
clock ticking was an enormous luxury."
With Fullbrook at the helm and Healy producing, longtime
bassist Cass Basil and drummer Alex Freer were vital sounding
boards & leant their own creative flourishes toward
an overall sound of confident exuberance, marrying the
intricately woven poetics of Leonard Cohen, the shimmering
dream-pop landscapes of Beach House or Mazzy Star, and
the off-kilter experimental pop of Broadcast or John Cale.
The result is an expansive series of delightfully bold
arrangements - the sound of a band so fluid, yet grounded;
the hard-won trust and ease that comes with long months
of touring. The burden of it taking so long was also its
blessing, with no filler seeping through the bricks, nor
beams blocking out the spaces. As Fullbrook says, quoting
the lyrics of the somewhat sinister 'School of Design',
"it was time to bust through the ceiling".
Exhilaration persists throughout the record, as Fullbrook
commands a series of songs marrying the ordinary with
the outlandish, the metaphysical with the mundane. Varied
strands of poetic imagery expound on the abstract possibilities
of potential; spaces both finite and boundless, and
how one might push into the other. "Fullbrook articulates
a hunger for freedom and agency", said Stereogum,
"but speaks from within the confines of a cynical,
jagged awareness of the world, whiplashing back and
forth between the raw intimacy of someone like Olsen
or Van Etten, and a kind of detached, prophetic folk-bard
'How much would you be willing to give?' Fullbrook asks
point-blank in first single "How Much", ahead
of woozily discordant strings and a stomping neo-psychedelic
rhythm. The lyric brims with imagery of supermarket
breakdowns, lilos, snarks and silos while an anthemic
guitar hook soars throughout. Not content to leave the
song at a stable conclusion; a thumping 'I am the Walrus'-esque
bass outro by longtime bandmate Cass Basil propels the
single boomerang-style back to a space of adroit experimentation.
The album is a sophisticated ode to the possibilities
of freedom, its title track replete with rich imagery
of figure skaters, prison cells and stuccoed motels.
Glittering with promise, it's an urgent challenge to
push further, to look harder - as the chorus of second
single, the eponymous Olympic Girls dictates, "We
were only inches away / still have a long, long way
Shimmering with ebullient echoes, third single 'Holograms'
embodies its own words, "In deepest water / There's
a line of silver". Hovering in the space between
luminescent dream-pop and sedate psychedelia, rich layers
of chorus and delay provide a sumptuous textural sea-bed
for Hollie Fullbrook's musings on holographic dancefloors
("It's how we dance in the future With big,
soft, heavy metal eyes"), rising sea levels and
human demise ("Our lungs are sponges / They're
gonna wipe us out"). Softly bubbling electric guitars
evoke a mood both space-bound and sunken, while the
chorus's cascading bass-line spurs on a shuffle beat
that creatures of any realm would find hard to resist.
The stretchy, shoegazing outro fills the ears with reverb
while a monotonous bass groove hums as a bubbling anchor
- a song suspended in space and time.
Some of the album's most beautiful moments are found
in the surrounding tracks to the more anthemic singles
- from the incandescent, tripping heartbreak of 'Sparklers',
the captivating baroque hooks of Kore Waits in the Underworld,
to the glittering chorus of One Million Flowers, every
moment is lined with an urgent spell. Finally, in the
album closer, 'Cold Enough to Climb', Fullbrook hones
in on the central idea, of pressing on towards a kind
of freedom, however existential or illusory - "we
build towns out of ink, we realise pixelated towers,
but to think the world inside is just beyond our powers".