Grace Duncan is a New Zealand-based songwriter and composer who recently completed Ruminations, an eight-song digital EP.
Duncan was raised in Aotearoa, New Zealand, busking in her hometown of Hawkes Bay. She’s released two singles that both received a lot of airplay and press attention, which is growing even larger with the release of Ruminations and its accompanying video.
Duncan says her songs are “…collections of soft and pensive moods with a central focus on vocal and cinematic harmonies, focused around lyrical themes of exploring, identity, faith, mental health, etc.” She began most songs on acoustic guitar, then expanded her palette with electric guitar, bass, traditional Maori instruments and analog synth. Recording took place in new studios at Massey University in Wellington using Pro Tools.
The album begins with a true string quartet. I’ve noticed many independent musicians making room in their budgets for string players, but there’s always that amazing moment when you realize you’re listening to living, breathing classical players and not a synth or samples. Duncan presents her overture music with lovely, if slightly dissonant themes. “Fire Within” begins the song proper with Duncan adding acoustic guitar and lovely vocals that somewhat recall Joni Mitchell. Duncan’s voice carries the bulk of the melody here, flawlessly hitting difficult high notes and transitions as the strings and other instruments offer support.
“For Now” is another achingly lovely vocal tune featuring rain samples which Duncan is nice enough to credit by name. In this song Duncan begins to double track and harmonize with herself in an eastern Polynesian dialect, for a quite enchanting effect. “Tree Against The Ocean” is a duet between Duncan on acoustics and Max Alpine on double bass with lots more atmospheric sound effects like wind chimes and ocean waves. “Inside” is an ethereal, hypnotic track featuring Duncan on all instruments, including violin.
“Tance” sees the return of the string quartet for a short, avant-classical interlude. “Time Will Tell” makes a lateral move into Kate Bush territory, if a bit less jarring and with a bit more space. Duncan ends the tune quite intimately, with her vocals unadorned right up front: “I hold on to you / and you hold on to me.”
“Come, We Must Go” features traditional musical instruments of the Maori People of New Zealand, played by Alistair Fraser. These instruments sound a bit like tempered whistles or a wailing woman. Duncan welcomes back the string quartet along with Anna Wild on drums, Noah Spargo on bass and Tessa Guest on backing vocals for this sweet and rousing finale.
What I loved here was both Duncan’s musical prowess (both writing and performing) and the inclusion of traditional New Zealand instruments and dialects. A truly original release!
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