by SAMUEL HARRIS
Like any good New Zealander I spent a bit of time last month ensuring my barbecue was char-ready for Waitangi Day.
What with one thing and another — one thing being the good public barbecues in our favourite local park, another being the piles of junk in the lean-to behind the house where the black beauty was stored over winter — the barbecue has gone unused so far this summer.
It was well past time to get it burning, so I shifted the junk and pushed the barbecue to a spot on the concrete
by the side door and got started on the cleaning.
Household tasks always go better with music, and my music for this job was the new mini-album Hurtling Through from English-born, Auckland based Hollie Fullbrook, who goes by the name Tiny Ruins. This recording caught my eye as Fullbrook collaborated with Hamish Kilgour — former drummer for Kiwi icons The Clean — to create it, and I’ll listen to anything with the Kilgour name attached.
The two recorded most of it over just a few days in two sessions in New York a year apart, with Fullbrook playing guitar, cello, organ and dulcimer and Kilgour contributing a wide range of percussion.
Additional instruments and vocals were added by Kilgour and another producer later, and the disc was released late last year to favourable reviews.
Now there’s bad barbecue music — more on that in a future column — and good barbecue music, and Hurtling
Through finds its place in this latter category.
It’s a seven-song set of folk-based tunes — or “minor key mope folk bag” as Kilgour apparently refers to it — that
shuffle, soar or swoop by turns.
Fullbrook describes the record as being “recorded in a somewhat ad hoc way”, like her previous records, with “no
time for editing or for double-guessing”.
She was exhausted after seven months touring — “I was in a sort of zombie state” — and she acknowledges Kilgour’s
role in pushing her to write and record these tunes even through that.
“I really owe Hamish big time . . . [he] made the EP what it is, really.” A gracious acknowledgement of the benefits of artistic collaboration: Fullbrook’s previous recordings are critically acclaimed and her album Brightly Painted One won best alternative album in 2014, but this album takes her music a step in a different direction. It is rough around the edges, less “pretty” than its predecessors, and has a more urgent, vital feel.
The opener Tread Softly, a setting of W. B. Yeats’s poem Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven (one of two songs on
the album that use Yeats’ words) is an early highlight.
The song sets the tone for the disc, both musically and lyrically, with its opening couplet: “Had I the heavens’
embroidered cloths,/Enwrought with golden and silver light.” Ideas of light in darkness, of hope and love, of striving for something better, all come to the fore across the record. These songs are deeply personal but not self-absorbed — they look up and outwards as well.
The title track Hurtling Through evokes images of people helping each other through life. “You doubt I’m your friend —/ … I’m here, I’m hanging on/ .. You’re hurtling through this dark space”, sings Fullbrook over layered
guitar and chiming percussion. The song finishes in hope, the darkness changing to “this bright space”.
Turn Around and Little Did I Know both suggest that we need to approach love and life with open hands. “Turn around,/ Stop holding on” and “I thought love was something I could hold,/ Preserve and swallow later/. . . Little did I know”.
Wandering Aengus is the second setting of a Yeats’, poem. It’s based on Irish mythology and tells the story of an
almost-obsessive quest for love. “A fire was in my head” says the narrator, and he seeks “a glimmering girl” until he is “old with wandering”. An interesting contrast to the earlier thoughts about love, and a lovely tune.
There’s something in this album too about the power of language. That’s certainly there in Fullbrook’s decisive
selection of canonical poet Yeats; in Turn Around’s “How do words of kindness/change an armoured heart?”; and
it is highlighted in closing track King’s County. “I went to the poetic,/ My dull being to find there,/ To shatter and awake me,/ From every fruitless vision” sings Fullbrook.
The power of the written word to arouse and challenge us, to bring light into our lives, to help us live fully — an idea Catholics are of course very familiar with, and Fullbrook and Kilgour’s Hurtling Through highlights this theme.
More than merely barbecue music then: a small album full of big, rich ideas and gorgeous music. Highly recommended.
Tiny Ruins plays live, with Bic Runga, at Auckland Zoo on February 20.
This is the second of a regular column on music by Samuel Harris. Samuel has the brief to write on any music that he considers to be of significance, but reading it through a Christian/Catholic lens.— Editor