New Zealand singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook, who performs under the name Tiny Ruins, writes deliciously hushed songs. If you pushed me to sketch a more synoptic descriptor, I might go so far as to say it’s shy music for shy listeners. It’s still and spare and soft, standing in the corner waiting for you to pay attention to its textured arrangements and sensitive lyricism.
I’ve previously written about Tiny Ruins’ song “Carriages,” spotlighting it for a P4K staffers list in 2018, but my absolute favorite remains “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round.” Both appear on her standout album, 2014’s Brightly Painted One.
“She’ll Be Coming ‘Round” begins as though it were climbing the mountain nestled at the song’s center; Fullbrook steadily plucks her guitar strings, unhurried. Her first verse hints at a sense of sudden freedom, gained unexpectedly. “Like a brightly painted one/ Freed from the turning of the wheel,” she sings, prolonging her vocal sustain so that it works alongside and around the guitar’s ponderous rhythm.
But a hint of what’s to come flashes shortly before the two-minute mark, when an electric guitar ripples frenetically in the background, leading into a climatic release. It’s as though the song exhales, and a larger determination emerges. Freedom acquired is not freedom kept without some kind of backbone.
It takes some time for the song to reach that wild and hardy spirit. The pace shifts around the 3:30 mark, picking up the tempo when a bass drum takes over and beats a kind of strength into the honest declarations Fullbrook has been sharing. “No more relying on,” she repeats, backed by a swell of voices.
In the song’s final moments, atmospheric organ surrounds her voice, as she comes ’round the mountain, so to speak, and delivers a lyrical line of purpose: “That old freewill might be a myth, but I’m gonna try and get me some.”
Shy doesn’t have to mean slight. Although Fullbrook’s vocal delivery never moves beyond quiet to capture the brash confidence the song’s final assertion might warrant, the mere fact of its echo lends it shape and substance. Charge forth, she seems to say, and carve your path on the mountain.