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