Olympic Girls (Milk!/Remote Control)
Hollie Fullbrook could be sad. It’s easy enough to imagine her being so as she’s made some intense and sometimes haunting music in the past. And a sad Fullbrook would be no problem at all: her here-and-yet-held-in voice able to create a kind of distant intimacy; a suitably modest accompaniment, her songs closer to our worried inner selves than we might wish.
Two tracks into her new album, the first in some four years since the deeply satisfying Brightly Painted One, and School Of Design might be considered to fall into that category. The guitar plays an accompanying line of circumspection, her voice is front and centre but seemingly barely above a murmur, and the atmosphere is in keeping with a visit to the archives of a school of design, in a wealthy town by the river, into which she’s come while killing time.
However, there is quiet pleasure, quiet exploration and satisfaction that is, yes, quiet, aplenty in this seeming sombreness. She explores the pages “frail with dust” which can’t help but make her smile “at the ideal shape and makeup of things/Written like words divine”. It all makes sense of the slowly rising, measured thrill of the chorus where Fullbrook sings “I was struck by a feeling that’s hard to describe/The urge to burst through the ceiling/Raise glass to the sky.
On Olympic Girls, Fullbrook - now with Tiny Ruins credited as a band for what used to be her solo project – has many colours, not just black and grey; many sounds, not just acoustic guitar; and many images of life springing up through the footpath cracks, of trust blossoming, of emotional terrain complex and variable.
The best example may be the title track, which opens the album like someone in love with Nick Drake’s sprung-mood Bryter Later (sans the strings) but sketching a perspective on childhood – and its resonance later - that is closer to his Five Leaves Left. “Weren’t we born to break out, to feel the muddy banks swell?/I think of you on the dancefloor, in a stuccoed motel/Forecasting when and where we’d end up.”
But that is far from the end of it for the album, not least because it closes on a True Detective soundtrack candidate, Cold Enough To Climb, which leaves you both chilled and warmed by its emotional abandonment delivered with human care.
In Holograms there are dangling electric guitar lines which hang like decorations from the ceiling pointing down to the bed of synths and voices waiting for you to fall back into them.
Contrastingly, with One Million Flowers, Fullbrook steps up from a kind of French café trio meets indie rock sound, for something that effortlessly elevates even as the lyrics mostly remain ambiguous: “Faded lacquer, flashes in the dark/You read my mind, but never imprison me there/Lanterns shiver.”
In My Love Leda, an ancient tale is repositioned in a modern world of laundromats and double shifts, buoyed by waltz time, light orchestration and a vocal that floats above, while Kora Waits In The Underworld takes a modern world and a mixed emotion (“I have trouble to see the trees from the word/And the leaves sing to me it’s all your fault”) and gives it an ancient spin of mythical departures through assertive-but-modestly-so bass and shimmers of what may be vibraphone.
“They say you won’t feel a thing,” Fullbrook says as the album ends. She would be wrong; you will feel many things with Olympic Girls, including pleasure.