We're coming up to the back end of the year, and aside from the shortlist for ATTIWLTMOWOS' album of the year is the small question of the Mercury Prize, which as many of you reading this will already know is the champion of British music acts and the showcase of their talents. Since the award came along about 25 years ago, I have bemoaned the fact that metal acts never get a look in this field as it would offer the spirited listener so much more. Still, if I thought the Mercury panel had very limited tastes, they would extend to pop and acts akin to the cheap alternative to making it big in what is a very fickle music industry.
So, on the shortlist of 12 is this classically trained composer from Glasgow in C Duncan, the initial Christopher, I suspect this moniker puts in a little pep for a relatively unknown to the general public, but he has been prolific in his work. His compositions as far as I've read have been used heavily in prime time television, he also is proficient on the viola and piano, and then, as you would do as an adolescent, learn guitar, bass and drums. All point towards a gifted instrumentalist with a welter of creative ideas straight from the recording studio.
This Mercury nominee's album is Architect, his debut, his vocals are of an ordinary baritone range, a la Paul Simon, but with the curious hushed down stylings of a refined Ian Brown. There's also some chamber fashioned harmonies which he appears to rely on heavily here on Architect yet admittedly an important piece of the puzzle. Style of music? It feels organic rather misleadingly, and certainly the as a backdrop it's ageless, so certainly worthy of its indie credentials but probably not synthetic enough to call it dreampop, could I warm to this?
There isn't much to be said for his choice of song titles, as over half of them here are one worded and very minimal. The percussion is very simple on the opening track Say, paintbrush drumming, and well employed harmonies. It is minimalist, and likewise the next track Architect, but this is a smart piece of what feels like a watercolour approach to it, and I am finding its appeal very quick. The choral backdrops are heavily used on Silence And Air, lyrically it's very illustrative and the loops fall into place neatly. Possibly the best track here. For (and that's the very song title honestly!) is largely made up of nylon strings, possibly a few whistles. However, the chorus seems deliberately discordant and possibly not the strong point here.
He Believes In Miracles introduces the occasional Glockenspiel work interspersed with multi-layered vocals, C Duncan seems comfortable in the very high notes yet strangely there's no evidence of falsetto. Yet another one word title for the next track Garden, but a more standout one from the rest, very lively, the full instrumental combo we've heard in the previous outings is out in full force. I can imagine that many songs may have been written straight from dreams, and Here To There certainly feels so. The vibe feels 80s, the lyrics uncomplicated, the hooks memorable, guitar is at its most minimal. I would've said it was a pity, but adds to the aura in Here To There. Next track is another one worded title, By, the keyboards are the backups to another hook lined song, it's another easy going piece.
I'm a little worried that two thirds in, the album could be much too much of the same, and it's where New Water threatens to be a forgettable filler. I think it doesn't add too much pep at this point, so on to Novices, and it's string laden coming in at about the right time, the harmonies are not pyrotechnical, but it's important that they work well. As Sleeping Stones once again is reliant on the harmonies, it's another track that furrows a smooth course. Last up, it's I'll Be Gone By Winter, basically an acoustic opus, seems to lean a little towards The Beatles' This Boy, but it's a strong yet subtle way to sign off the album, sign off the day.
Simplify. Add. It's a good bet that was always the policy C. Duncan was striving for from day one of recording Architect. For sure, this relatively youthful talent has drawn on a few inspirations like Simon and Garfunkel and perhaps Joni Mitchell, but what sets this album in good stead is how he's smartly crafted what is deceivingly a minimal sounding piece into a fine cacophonic art. At the very least he's shown his worth as a Mercury nominee, at the very most this is a well scripted piece. The transposition from a library musician to out and out artist has been a smooth one.
8 out of ten. Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.
Best Track : Garden
Buy Architect here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Listen to the album here on Deezer
Official C Duncan website here
I can't find an official facebook page for C Duncan, he seems to have a few upcoming events in his name, but I'll update the link if and when he does have one.