It’s easy to forget that C Duncan’s debut album was released only 15 months ago; July 2015 feels like a lifetime away. Architect displayed enough promise to suggest that the Glaswegian wouldn’t take too long to piece together a follow-up however. Perhaps he heard the saying that an artist has their whole life to make their first album and 18 months to write their second, and took that as a challenge. In addition to this, the tour itinerary for his debut album was nothing to be sniffed at, and said debut was nominated for the Mercury Prize.
With all that having gone on, there is always the worrying threat of a disappointing follow-up; surely he couldn’t make a 15-month turnaround work? No need to worry though. The Midnight Sun was hardly something put together in haste. In fact, it sounds lush enough to suggest there were plenty of all-nighters while working on it. It is bedroom-produced like its predecessor, but it trades eclecticism for a more musically coherent approach, as well as tackling some weighty themes. ‘Last to Leave’ and ‘Do I Hear?’ focus on Duncan’s relationship with his ex, while ‘Like You Do’ is a deeply affecting account of a friend’s mental health troubles.
There’s often a clear juxtaposition between the timbre of the music and the lyrical content therein, but like many a Scottish artists before him he displays a panache for getting the most out of such contrasts and his ability to arrange different musical layers and create massed harmonies. This is most notably deployed on blissed-out highlight ‘On Course’—a song that brings to mind earlier Goldfrapp material, or a less insular Active Child—allowing his compositional prowess to come into sharp focus exactly when intended.
A hurdle that Architect failed to clear was that its second half didn’t quite hold up. In contrast, its more assured successor has the stamina to go all the way. Though the record is most comfortable chugging along at a moderate pace, it eventually settles into a sedate closing run of songs that brings it to an end in a suitably graceful manner. The title track dips its toe into psychedelic waters with startling chord changes and colourful harmonies, while ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Window’ allow the album to go out on a high. Duncan has not merely met expectations, but has comfortably surpassed them with an album that has the melodic and lyrical heft to match its sonic ambition. Gareth O’Malley