This C Duncan Article was written by Stephen Butchard, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse.
It’s rare for an artist to form a fully realised sound on their debut record, but that’s exactly what C Duncan delivered on his Mercury nominated debut, ‘Architect’. His detailed chamber pop is distinct and dreamy in equal measure, with nuanced instrumentation fused elegantly into his quaint compositions. There are flashes of barbershop, dreampop and folk pop, but the soundscapes Duncan constructs are loaded with a special attention to detail that makes them utterly transportative.
His latest EP dives back into the sun kissed avenues he created on ‘Architect,’ and will be sure please fans ready to soak up more of his delicate craftsmanship. ‘A Year or So’ is as playfully dense as any track on ‘Architect’, without ever losing his soothing quality. Giddy drumstick clicks rattle above echoing harmonies and driving snares, as the track weaves through morphing rhythms. It would have fitted snugly on ‘Architect’. Yet, there is a feeling of déjà vu that suggests that this is a collection of leftovers rather an essential move forward.
Following on is a live version of ‘Garden’, ‘Architect’s giddiest cut, recorded at Maida Vale studios for 6 Music. As is natural in the live setting, this version lacks the pristine quality of the studio cut; some of the harmonies feel bruised, and the band occasionally feel rushed rather than carefree. Still, hearing Duncan reconstruct his music with the presence of a band makes for interesting listening. On record, almost every piece of instrumentation comes from Duncan himself, layered through multitrack recording in the bedroom of his Glasgow flat – something that makes the fullness of his music even more impressive. Here, the interplay between the band members adds a newfound urgency. The bass is warm and bouncy, the drums are skittering and organic, and the organ adds a wonderfully jagged element through relentless stab chords.
‘The Age for Love (Is the Wrong Age For Me)’ is the sweetest ditty Duncan has ever constructed, so much so that it requires the word ‘ditty’ as a descriptor. It’s a cute song, with Duncan’s usual attention to detail, but the quaintness of its showtune evoking melody becomes groan inducing after multiple listens. As Duncan sings “What’s a matta you?” in his feathery falsetto, it’s easy to get the sense that he’s gone too far: the quaint quota has been reached. Still, his wide eyed view to songwriting isn’t without its charm.
The most impressive track on the EP is left till last – a gorgeous, ear tickling cover of the Cocteau Twins classic ‘Pearly-DewDrop Drops’. Duncan cites the band as a core influence, and his passion for their music shines through here, as he floats above airy synths in a whisper quiet coo. The rich warmth of the track exceeds that of the original, and makes for one of the cosiest things the artist has produced so far. The gentle swell of instrumentation towards its finish is heavenly in execution. It’s worth the price alone.
Though not a grand statement like his debut, this EP finds Duncan expanding his delicate world of sound, with his usual charm and skill.
‘C Duncan EP’ is out on the 19th February via FatCat Records.