Catherine AD is new in my life, the latest sound to quicken my sometimes jaded musical ear. She’s a vocalist of subtle passion, a chansonnière who takes melodrama and murmurs it in torch songs coloured by her spare, sympathetic arrangements. She is a multi-instrumentalist, a word-whisperer, a maker of soundtracks to imaginary French films in which lovelorn men and women wander through the boulevards with an air of isolated cool.
Skeleton Songs is her new limited-edition EP, a collection of stripped-down recordings from an original demo presented without editing, its imperfections let stay to keep the organic unity of each piece; but there is nothing sloppy or ad hoc about these tracks. The spontaneity doesn’t become a licence for rambling or self-indulgence. This record is focussed, complete, not marred by unnecessary enhancement. It begins with Missiveh, which opens with gentle acoustic guitar arpeggios. Then the cello’s dark statement enters, enfolding itself around a clear, unstylised voice that sounds so naked but displays no rawness or emotional grandstanding. It is tempting to invoke the names of Nick Drake and Robert Kirby, but Catherine has her own true voice, her own sound-world.
Over and Over is a piano-based song built on deceptively jaunty chording over which she sings with the soft, lambently burning tone of an introspective, elusive chanteuse. I can hear Scott Walker singing this insistent song of regret and loss.
Populah-la, vocals multilayered, the melodic voice bringing some edge to its soft, lonely clarity, is a strange and lovely puzzle of a tune. This is somewhere between pop and epic, between soundtrack and nursery rhyme, a march that hits a sudden halt.
Carry Your Heart (organ version), inspired by an e.e. cummings poem, is a reworking of the very different version from the EP of the same name. That interpretation is more fulsome while this one owns a different kind of intensity. The organ’s diffuse, blurry sound hovers, throbs, distils the emotion to a yearning and envelops it with something funereal.
The Heart Wants to Be a Hammer feels like a eulogy to a lost self. The rhythm of the piano is a heartbeat, a muted hammer marking out life’s tick-tock progress, the story of a life still young and vulnerable though tempered by pain, by love, by innocence and experience. The voice is affirmative, still untouched by world-weariness.
Five short tracks, five quietly powerful moments, sixteen minutes of compositions that insinuate their beauties into the soul and seduce the mind. Find these songs and wrap yourself in them now.