C Duncan: The Midnight Sun


The Scottish composer's latest effort takes on a more electronic direction without necessarily abandoning his penchant for dreamlike orchestrations.

C Duncan

The Midnight Sun

Label: Fat Cat
US Release Date: 2016-10-14
UK Release Date: 2016-10-14

Scottish composer C Duncan has a way with constructing elegiac sounds that eclipse whatever else surrounds them. The Mercury Prize nominee’s debut, fittingly titled Architect, teetered somewhere between verdant dream pop and enchanting ambient music. There was a flawless technicality to his compositions, with songs that cultivate creativity at every twist and turn. Not one moment in Architect sounds alike, and yet there’s a harmonic component to his vocal tonality that gave the entire album a structural equilibrium. In running the risk of repeating Architect’s eddying mini-suites, The Midnight Sun finds Duncan taking on a more electronic direction without necessarily abandoning his penchant for dreamlike orchestrations.

It doesn’t take long for Duncan to derail those expectations on this follow-up, as opener "Nothing More" begins with a patient choral passage until it unexpectedly turns into rhythmic art-funk. He carries that same vigor in "Like You Do", a more personal take on starting anew in which Duncan allows himself to reveal more of his true character with a dusky, synth-laced groove. It does provide a welcome speculation and curiosity considering that he never really came into view before (Architect was practically grounded in anonymity).

Duncan is still very much attached to his classical upbringing, though, and "Other Side" is a perfect example of how he’s willing to subvert conventions with some playful embellishments. From the lysergic brightness to "Other Side", to the more iridescent melody of "Wanted to Want it Too", it’s almost as if he’s convincing listeners into thinking that this is his breakthrough moment into pop stardom; you can observe how the track’s lusciously measured manipulations and catchy choruses follow a similar route Kevin Parker took on Tame Impala’s Currents. The Midnight Sun surely isn’t tame about leaving a glittery trace, and every single note sounds just impeccable, but there’s still a rigorous method to his artful insinuations that suggest that Duncan doesn't want to compose with an easily-palatable foundation.

To be fair, The Midnight Sun is also more willing to toy with pop conventions. There’s a confidence to the album’s gossamer and dainty tapestries that counteracts with his oftentimes coy demeanor, but it also wouldn’t be as distinguishable if he didn’t continue to layer things with a spectral finesse. Duncan’s beatific low register isn’t necessarily his strongest asset, yet it's a trait he exposes with surprising clarity on "Do I Hear?", where fluttering electronic tones and finger-picked acoustic patterns slowly reveal a cool and swaying elegance. But nowhere in the album does Duncan truly let his guard down than in the superb "Jupiter", a soulful ode to early eighties soft rock that exhibits his hidden strengths as a pop craftsman. It’s truly fascinating how Duncan intends to conceal its pleasurable hook in such an abstruse manner.

And so, The Midnight Sun is another accomplished effort coming from an artist whose expansive imagination belies his self-recorded productions. Perhaps this approach is what gives Duncan his own distinctive flavor, an asset that allows him to interlace all kinds of sonic and tangible elements without dismissing his prominent folk leanings. His songwriting ambitions may have greatly increased, but more importantly, so has his inner mettle.







The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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