Lose yourself in Tiny Ruins

Lose yourself in Tiny Ruins

Album of the week

Alternative Folk
Tiny Ruins
Bella Union

Hey you. Yes, you, the frazzled executive, put down that cellphone. Stop staring at the computer screen. Come. Take a break. Now, put on the latest album by New Zealand guitarist-songstress Hollie Fullbrook as Tiny Ruins. In less than a minute, it's guaranteed to soothe you. You start to notice birds chirping among the raintrees and smile when the sky begins to drizzle. Outside, it's a susurrus of grey and there's a gentle patter of rain. Such is the quiet effect of her slow-burning folk. Brightly Painted One deepens the introspection of her sparsely staggering 2011 debut, Some Were Meant For Sea. This time, the thoughtfulness is enriched by the plangent brass of Cass Basil and the shadowy drums of Alexander Freer. She seeks clear understanding and empathy, a tacit acknowledgement that one exists. In the incandescent opener, Me At The Museum, You At The Wintergardens, she sings from the perspective of someone having a clandestine human connection. "I await the day when I work at the Museum/with you across the way in the Wintergardens," she purrs over lightly picked guitar and dolorous strings, then adds, "we'll lie through our teeth, shock all the cavalry statues watching on/us in our time bomb." The music swirls around like air and you'll buoyed along by her lovely caramel voice, mildly taken aback (but secretly thrilled) by all the unspoken shenanigans. Her honeyed tones remind one of American folk siren Marissa Nadler's, but somehow hers aren't as showy or studied in comparison. Everything sounds exactly the way it should be, as if life is just unfurling in real time. The effect is akin to watching Blue Is The Warmest Color, the Cannes-winning French drama about a star-crossed couple. The film draws you into its farrago of happenstances. You don't quite see the wheels turning, too absorbed and invested in their stories. Fullbrook's ballads, similarly, seem as light as ephemera, but they'll reveal their true colours if you sit down and just immerse yourself. They are hummingbirds fluttering like jewels. Another grower is Ballad Of The Hanging Parcel, about her taking "a lead weight in a tissue white". "When morning came, it was still swinging - a gleaming rock, string vaguely glittering," she sings such perspicacious lines about physics and an enchantment with world's humble riches. Don't miss Tiny Ruins, it may be your best treasure.

Ben & Ellen Harper Prestige Folklore/Concord Music

Mother and son unite in this ode to hearth and home - acclaimed minstrel Ben Harper and his mother Ellen strum and hum in some of this year's gently asinine explorations of human ties. "A house is a home even when there're ghosts," the duo harmonise in A House Is A Home, the guitar riffing and thumping to the heartbeat. Such warmth and openness infuse the recordings, shadowed by experience and an understanding that not everything rosy is what it seems. Ellen points out "landmarks lost to parking lots" in City Of Dreams, an elegy of bittersweet progress which urbanites should take heed of.

Carlene Carter Rounder

Like the Harpers, Carlene Carter comes from rich musical lineage: Mum was June Carter Cash, stepdad Johnny Cash and grandmother Maybelle Carter. In Carter Girl, produced by the estimable Don Was, she pays tribute to her forebears. Her voice, deepened by age, embraces songs old and new with conviction. The most affecting is Lonesome Valley 2003, in which she recasts a Carter Family evergreen to commemorate her mum's passing. Together with guests Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and Kris Kristofferson, she harkens back to her roots while soldiering forward. Listen to how she rocks out in Little Black Train, boosting scuzzy atmospherics and sonorous Rhodes to make sure you know she is her own woman.

Douglas Dare Erased Tapes

Erased Tapes, a London-based independent label, is home to some of my favourite artists in the past year - Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds. The label's latest signing, 23-year-old Londoner Douglas Dare, has similar credentials. A mix of classical training and singer-songwriter chops means he rides the fine line between tradition and future experimentation. His inaugural EP, Seven Hours, is a subtle alchemy of electronic glitches, spartan piano and a vocal full of Wainwrightian longing. In spirit, he's closer to William Doyle, aka East India Youth, another talented British newcomer equally at home in a dance club as well as a church. In Lungful, Dare sings, "Don't let them see you fail/I will not let you fail", over delayed handclaps and ivory tinkling. It's both a little scary and comforting at the same time.

Folk rock
Mighty Oaks Vertigo/Capitol

Everyone, it seems, is going Mumford & Sons. Thanks to the Grammy-endorsed rise of the English folk-rockers, a commune of like-minded agrarian-looking, khakiclad chaps (and girls) is spreading. Denver's Lumineers are making inroads and now, from Berlin, come Mighty Oaks, an Italian-American-Brit trio who peddle in mandolins and acoustic guitars. You may sniff at their authenticity but, the fact is, singer Ian Hooper is an American expatriate and they proffer the same, sturdy facsimile. Song titles such as You Saved My Soul and Brother give you an idea of the slightly ho-hum romanticism on display here. Still, you chant, raise your beer and cry manly tears.

This article was first published on May 22, 2014.
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