PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

C Duncan: Architect

From delicate, pastoral dream pop to intimate, electronic-tinged folk, the Glaswegian composer’s luxuriant vocal harmonies and intricate compositions dazzle with ingenuity.

C Duncan


Label: FatCat
US Release Date: 2015-10-16
UK Release Date: 2015-07-17
Artist Website

On his breathtaking debut album Architect, 26-year-old Glaswegian composer Christopher Duncan sings, “I’ll take you everywhere I go… I’ll take you everywhere I know. It’s all so wonderful.” That’s exactly what the Mercury Prize-nominated multi-instrumentalist does over the course of 49 minutes, and it’s anything but hyperbole to declare that “wonderful” is quite the understatement. From delicate, pastoral dream pop to intimate, electronic-tinged folk, Duncan’s luxuriant vocal harmonies and intricate compositions dazzle with ingenuity.

The influences are easily discernible throughout Architect, but their presence rarely obscures Duncan’s own artistic voice. His lush choral arrangements periodically bring to mind Herbert Howells’s transcendent Requiem, the celestial choral works of Faure and Duruflé, and the “virtual choir” aesthetic of composer Eric Whitacre, but Brian Wilson, Fleet Foxes, Cocteau Twins, and even a less twee Harpers Bazaar also seem like comparative points of reference. The complexity found within Duncan’s compositions isn’t surprising, considering he’s the son of two classical musicians and a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, but it’s really the pop immediacy of these songs that lingers in the mind long after the record has ended.

Architect rarely feels like a collection of songs tied together by one particular subject matter or another. If anything, they seem to be united by style and instrumental texture more than lyrical content, but beginning with the atmospheric “Say”, Duncan introduces a little theme of “leaving it all behind”. Layered vocals flicker in and out of the mix like light poking through a grey haze on an English summer’s day. It’s followed by the shimmering title track, where Duncan sings, "I'll take the plans this time, and I'll take control / It's all right now". With its whimsical, slightly off-kilter organ line and “La La La” chorus, this buoyant ditty sounds like a modernized rendering of medieval music to accompany an English court dance.

Abandoning the “sites and city lights” for a little open space and quietude, “Silence and Air” picks up where “Say” leaves off thematically. An ideal track to throw on a playlist for a late-night drive, it opens with the percussive sound of clicking castanets or rattling spoons, and is joined by the sound of an insistent, arpeggiated acoustic guitar line and Christopher’s ethereal harmonies. They float into the hypnotic “For”, which could easily be mistaken for an old, unearthed folk track with its whistled melody and misty production. Duncan flirts with sea imagery on this track, introducing another lyrical theme found throughout the album. Here it’s as if the song’s narrator is staring out at a vast body of water, ruminating about the mysteries of life, while chuckling about all its humorous twists and turns.

The barbershop-meets-Bacharach romanticism of “He Believes in Miracles”, the kaleidoscopic, Krautrock-tinted psychedelia of “Garden”, the post-punk, OMD vibe of “Here To There”, and the Elbow-esque “By” all dabble in different genres, but each one of them is imbued with a daydream-like ambience. These are the kinds of reverie-infused songs that can be listened to regardless of the season. Even though the moods of Architect fluctuate, Duncan’s clever vocal arrangements and the subtleties of his layered production, somehow bind everything together seamlessly.

As critically acclaimed singles “For”, “Here to There”, “Say”, and “Garden” were each released in anticipation of his debut, blogs and critiques would occasionally comment on the dearth of strings found within his songs, as if their inclusion would somehow validate his classically trained background. While the aesthetic works marvelously well for other artists like Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, Susanne Sundfør, or Andrew Bird, it often seems like gilding the lily if executed poorly. As with every single meticulous detail on Architect, Duncan’s compositional instincts never seem to fail him, so when strings finally materialize on the cinematic “Novices”, they slip seamlessly into the fabric of the piece.

Through minor-key uncertainty and crisp, percussive brush strokes, the haunting “Novices” captures the inner turmoil and nervous excitement of two lovers embracing an uncertain future. Introspective and dreamy like early Beach House, it drifts into the diaphanous choral “oohs” of “As Sleeping Stones” and then into the bittersweet tenderness of the album’s final track “Ill Be Gone By Winter”. Like one of Vashti Bunyan’s gossamer lullabies or a delicate Ed Harcourt ballad, he sings, "How slow the nights go, when you don’t come around anymore / I’ll wait for daybreak in the grey". His voice sounding startlingly similar to that of Canadian troubadour Ron Sexsmith, Duncan closes this stellar collection of songs singing, “Goodbye goodbye”.

For over a year the singer-songwriter isolated himself within his bedroom studio as he crafted the album’s 12 songs. Unencumbered by time constraints or the influence of outside producers, Duncan painstakingly layers guitars, synths, handclaps, found objects and vocal lines on top one another. The resulting product is astonishing, not simply because of how disarmingly beautiful it all is, but more that the record is the result of one man’s labor of love, not the work of an entire studio full of musicians. These songs breathe with life. Timeless, genre-defiant, and endlessly inventive, Architect is as accomplished a debut as any in recent memory.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.