|By Bill Binkelman, Host & Producer, Wind and Wire, KFAI FM (Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, USA)
CATHERINE DUC, Visions and Dreams
Fans of the chilled-out beats and fluid synth melodies which are exemplified by artists such as Amethystium, Ryan Farish, Australis, and vintage Enigma, but who want something just a tad different, will rejoice after listening to Visions and Dreams, the debut recording from Australian artist Catherine Duc. Duc's music differs from her contemporaries through her inclusion of distinct Celtic textures which are sprinkled onto some of the ten tracks on the CD. The music also has less of Farish's "pop" feel and is frequently less dark than Amethystium's works, instead being more concerned with crafting beautiful melodies which are played through a wide assortment of sampled instruments, some of which are evocative of her Celtic/Irish/Scottish influences, such as the harp, flute and fiddle in "Dancing in the Mist."
There are many things to admire on this disc, not the least of which is Duc's self-assured way with her arsenal of synths, her production and engineering (which are first rate), and her ability to bring cohesion to the album despite the existence of variety from track to track. Spacy swirling synths yield to haunting female vocals set off by shuffling trippy beats, piano, and Enigma-esque pan pipes on "Evocation" while "One Autumn Day" has a pleasantly cheery sound to it, frothy and full of subdued energy, fueled by solid piano work against a bedrock rhythm track, plucked harp, and ethereal wordless vocals. "Midsummer Twilight" offers chilled bass beats, lush keyboards and well-sampled acoustic guitar, with the main melody carried by an Irish-sounding sampled flute. "Rivulet" has a regal and somewhat ancient air to it, as if it was music for a knight's return across the Scottish moors or the Welsh hills. The music is romantic and subtly dramatic without being hokey or overblown.
Another comparison you could draw might be between Duc and Llewellyn (the superb artist on New World Music) although Llewellyn's production and instrumentation is better (to be fair to Duc, Llewellyn sits at the very pinnacle of the electronic new age music subgenre, along with fellow UK musician Kevin Kendle). Duc's minor shortcomings are few and far between (e.g. the inclusion of scant environmental sounds on a few tracks, something which detracts from the music as far as I'm concerned).
Overall, Visions and Dreams is an excellent debut album and it's so great to hear this kind of music coming from a woman artist as well, since this subgenre seems dominated by men. Catherine Duc should garner plenty of attention from lovers of infectious rhythm-laden new age or chill-out music. Amethystium fans should pay special attention as her CD has the most in common with his work.