Tiny Ruins’ latest album, ‘Ceremony’, consists of songs that act as chapters of a saga set on Tāmaki Makaurau’s (aka Auckland’s) Manukau Harbour, known to locals as “Old Murky,” its western fringe of the Waitākere Ranges. The harbour is dirty, neglected and polluted but the peaceful inlets are all tidal flats, shellfish and birdlife. The songs emerged as Hollie Fullbrook, the band’s singer and songwriter, explored the area with her dogs. The surroundings offered ample scope for her to indulge a novelistic eye for detail and poetic turn of phrase. While the songs originally had a melancholy incarnation on acoustic guitar, their scope has been transformed by her bandmates’ embellishment. 

Opening track, ‘Dogs Dreaming’, is one of the album’s least immediate songs taking a few listens to weave its spell. It is country-tinged folk-rock decorated with Tom Healy’s Hammond organ and was penned by Fullbrook on a solo expedition to the Āwhitu Peninsula where she was freaked out by a lighthouse at dusk. The writerly instinct is quickly apparent (“Corrugated old ravine where the flaxseeds sway”) combined with an ability to get to the emotional crux (“The body knows what it needs / Like the beat knows the drum”).

The album starts to take off with the jazz-inflected ‘Daylight Savings’ with vocals of great clarity, peppered with detailed observation (“Panic set in like the kitten in the car”) and the repetition of falling in the chorus has me ensnared. ‘Diving and Soaring’ is decorated by acoustic guitar with elements of classical, folk and Spanish set against Cass Basil’s double bass. It has an instant sense of place and atmosphere (“I woke to a batter of blue powder/ Across the sky”) and Fullbrook’s pure voice.

Each track has note-worthy qualities, with ‘In Light of Everything’ it is a beguiling melody, little guitar flourishes and the patter of Alex Freer’s bongos. Basil’s cello adds emotional heft to ‘Out of Phase’, a song with hints of emotional discontent (“It was an own goal anyway, when I laid into you”) that would easily slot into a This Is The Kit record which is a high accolade. In contrast, ‘Dorothy Bay’ is the heaviest moment on a light dexterous album with an echo of Neil Young at his most song oriented in the guitar work.

‘Seafoam Green’ is sprinkled with lovely lyrical details (“Walk along the pier, find you a souvenir / Donut sugar’s all in your hair”) and group specific references (“missing Cass the bass queen” and “hauling gear in the cold rain / Then huddled ‘round our single beer”) suggesting that the band keep her grounded (“When we talk, when we really talk It can feel like we’re brand new again”). ‘Earthly Things’ was inspired by a power cut and surveying the weather-related damage and seeing it as a metaphor of emotional wreckage while rolling guitars lead the song in an intricate dance.

‘Ceremony’ saves some of its finest songs for the final trio. The spare ‘Dear Annie’ is especially heart-breaking, a tale of lost friendship, the cello helping to convey the heavy sadness. To folky guitar plucking, ‘Sounds Like’ sees Fullbrook’s phrasing being comparable to a female Nick Drake as she delivers a reckoning (“The clock keeps striking midnight / When will we comprehend / What we’re all in here for”).

The very best is left until last with ‘The Crab / Waterbaby’. It recounts a walk around the cove, encountering a crab on its back and seeing it as a reflection of suffering before returning “my friend the right way”. Its gently insistent chorus (“We’re translucent see / Goddamn permeable…/ I need a ceremony / I need a ritual”) weaves spine-tinglingly around minimalist strings, cello and jazz bass. 

 Tiny Ruins: Ceremony – Out 28th April 2023 (Marathon Artists)

Tiny Ruins: The Crab / Waterbaby: Video

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.