[sic] Magazine

C Duncan – The Midnight Sun

C Duncan’s debut, Architect, released to critical acclaim last year, somehow brought with it a breath of fresh air. Its pastoral melodies and multi-layered harmonies heralded the arrival of something special. So much so that it was recognised and nominated for the 2015 Mercury Prize. Every instrument on the album was recorded completely by Duncan himself, with a band assembled later to tour the album. It’s also worth tracking down Duncan’s cover version of Cocteau Twins’ seminal single ‘Pearly Dewdrops Drops’ – before I’d heard it, I seriously doubted that anybody would be able to pull that feat off. That changed the moment I heard the first few bars. Just gorgeous.

The Midnight Sun neatly brings us up-to-date, carrying with it those same angelic harmonies – but also perhaps a slightly more polished delivery. It was once again recorded and produced by Duncan in his Glasgow flat. Overall, there are more synths throughout and the sound feels more controlled, but those of you who bought into Duncan’s trademark dreamy, atmospheric sound are sure to enjoy this album. Whereas the debut carried more acoustic tracks and arguably a more ‘live’ feel, certain elements of this album have more in common with, say, Flaunt The Imperfection by China Crisis than the acoustic-led tracks such as ‘Garden’ and ‘For’ from the debut.

The album actually makes excellent headphone material – and I’m sure Mr Duncan won’t mind me saying that it’s certain to help you off to sleep. Put another way, there’s nothing here that is going to trouble the neighbours. If, however, you’re listening in a noisy gig venue where half the people attending appear to have forgotten their manners and are busy talking about the curry they ate for tea or last Saturday’s episode of The X-Factor, then these atmospheric vibes might struggle to cut above comments about the length of Nicole Scherzinger’s dress.

Opener ‘Nothing More’ is an album highlight – with its church-like intro. Those harmonies really must have taken some serious work to perfect. With little more than a synth and layers of vocals during the first minute or so, it’s a masterclass in how much can be delivered with so little. Similarly, ‘Like You Do’ kicks off with some nice drum work and 80s synths. For the most part of the verse, there’s the development of a melody wrapped around a simple chord progression. Then suddenly, the melody and harmonies develop into a chorus which hits an unexpected (and rather beautiful) key change.

‘Do I Hear?’ is possibly the closest we come on the album to last year’s debut, with its entrancing acoustic shapes and minor chords. I absolutely love it. It’s such a simple track – and yet incredibly beautiful. It’s the vocals that you’re immediately drawn towards. The track itself will sweep you away. Picture yourself on a beach at dusk on a warm evening listening to this track on your headphones with the waves splashing against your feet. It’s perfect. Yes, it’s that good.

That’s not to say the entire album’s perfect. Some tracks fail to lift the temperature as much as others (‘Last To Leave’, title track ‘The Midnight Sun’ and ‘Window’), and several tracks, particularly during the second half of the album, drift along at a slow pace such that they end up sounding quite similar, but overall there’s more than enough here to like.