C Duncan - Monolith Cocktail review

C Duncan   ‘Architect’   (FatCat Records)
LP released 17th July 2015

Successfully integrating the choral impressionism of the classical French master composers Maurice Ravel and Gabriel Fauré with the affecting angelic paeans of 80s and early 90s pop, the Glaswegian chamber symphonic troubadour C Duncan has produced one of the year’s most impressive albums. Born into a rich heritage of classism, both of his partners earning their crust as professional classical musicians, and graduating from the city’s revered Royal Conservatoire, Duncan waxed lyrical on the piano and viola before the temptations of rock and pop led him in a slightly off-kilter direction. Joining a number of bands whilst at school, he added the lead guitar, bass guitar and drums to his extensive oeuvre.

But rather then use the grand and extended orchestral tools and acoustic spaces of classical music, Duncan methodically and intricately layers his ethereal, and sometimes transcendental, songs in his bedroom studio. Precise, purposeful and planned to the latter, each note, chime, melodic suffused wave and example of interplay is meticulously placed. Architect is then, perhaps one of the most finely crafted albums of late. Yet, most impressive of all is Duncan’s ability to make this precision sound so dreamily and amorphously lush and drifting.

The sound itself is heavenly. Hushed reverence appears like a leitmotif throughout, Duncan’s multi-tracked vocals sounding like Harpers Bizarre or The Beach Boys seeking sanctuary in an isolated Gaelic monastery. The opening cerebral bliss of ‘Say’ magically recalls Talk Talk, but also sounds like an early 90s Sting backing track (both of which are gloriously merged together), and the titular mini-requiem nods in the direction of the US west coast; the inspired harmonies of Sagittarius, and The Turtles clever ascending vocal riffs, wafting over the Atlantic and back through time to be placed in a stained glass setting. From then on in, we’re treated to the sort of lost celestial sacrosanct cooing you’d find on Medieval arrangements, brought right up to date with veiled gestures to Kate Bush and The Cocteau Twins. Featured a couple of months back on the Monolith Cocktail, Duncan’s ‘Here To There’ changes the mood with the glorious Spector reverb imbued Baroque meets the backwater folk of Midlake and the Fleet Foxes style lifting lilt.

Gentle and at times lingering like a reverberating memory from either a 60s Californian beach campfire serenade or a hymn recital at the 7th century Iona abbey, the ebb and flow is never too intense an experience or too vague as to be vapourous. And because of its venerated, intimate and breathy subtlety, Architect will need some space and time to unravel all its riches. Make no mistakes, C Duncan is an exceptional talent (annoyingly a really decent artist too; exhibiting throughout Scotland, his artwork adorns all his releases), and his album is one of the most refined, accomplished nuggets of 2015.

Words:  Dominic Valvona

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