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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 wisdom."

'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 to go."

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".