Album Reviews

Tiny Ruins – Ceremony

(Marathon Artists) UK release date: 28 April 2023

An album of hushed beauty that’s a love letter to their native New Zealand and its landscape, from a band that can creep into your heart without you even noticing

Tiny Ruins - Ceremony Tiny Ruins began life back in 2009 as a pseudonym for Auckland based singer/songwriter Hollie Fullbrook – 14 years later, they’ve expanded to become a full-scale, four-piece band. Their sound has inevitably become fuller over the years, but even on Ceremony, the band’s fourth album, it’s still a quiet, restrained affair, dominated by Fullbrook’s wistful voice.

Fullbrook has said that much of Ceremony was inspired by the rugged beauty of Auckland’s Manuka Harbour, and there’s certainly a suitably pastoral feel to the album. Songs ebb and flow like the water streaming into the bay, and the finger-picked guitar and gently brushed drums lull you into a gentle haze while listening. When Fullbrook sings of “the seabirds flashing by” in Diving & Soaring, you can almost picture them.

There are echoes of Nick Drake (especially in Fullbrook’s guitar playing) and some of the arrangements on Ceremony wouldn’t sound out of place on a Big Thief album. Out Of Phase has a blissful hush to it that reminds one of early Suzanne Vega, while opening track Dogs Dreaming perfectly sets out Tiny Ruins’ sound – light and breezy, with an unexpected tempo change towards the end hinting at surprises bubbling underneath.

Although the general mood of Ceremony is downtempo folk, there are some more muscular arrangements to be found. Dorothy Bay, one of the album highlights, opens with a strident electric guitar riff and sinister warnings of “a strong pull, harbour way”. There are hints of psych-folk on In Light Of Everything, while the lovely Dear Annie, a meditation on a lost friendship, is just Fullbrook accompanied by an electric guitar, and sounds incredibly effective.

It’s fair to say that Ceremony isn’t the most immediate of albums. Not too many tracks make much impression on the first couple of listens, with the album sounding like a general mood piece at first. It sounds pleasant but unobtrusive, and you begin to yearn for something a bit more gritty to grab the attention.

However, the more that you live with Ceremony, the more its charms begin to reveal itself. The way that Sounds Like builds up gradually to its almost celebratory climax, for instance, or the simple tale of finding a crab on a beach in the closing track The Crab/Waterbaby, bolstered by stabbing strings and an optimistic air that seems to say that everything will, eventually, turn out okay.

Ceremony is an album of hushed beauty and a love letter to the band’s native country and its landscape. Some may find the often austere arrangements off-putting, but this is an album which proves that Tiny Ruins are a band that can creep into your heart without you even noticing.

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Tiny Ruins – Ceremony