Compositional wizardry, exquisite harmonies and technical precision characterises Architect, the debut LP by Glasgow’s C Duncan, a record which instantly resonates before unravelling to reveal itself confidently as one of the best records to come from north of Hadrian’s Wall this year.
Theory and technique doesn’t make a great pop record on its own, and Architect is full of wonderful songs, swooning melodies and changes of pace.
It’s refreshing to hear a record with such intriguing reference points, Duncan has cited modern composers Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki as influences, and from a poppier standpoint the choral harmonies echo Fleet Foxes debut, but Architect is difficult to pigeonhole.
Architect opens with ‘Say ‘- in which a syncopated groove and sea of handclaps folds out into a lush and expansive chorus – as a first track, it’s simultaneously a trump card and a bold move – where to go from there?
Fortunately, Architect is record of high points, which burst from the speakers at a rate of knots, a strength in depth perfectly represented by the four-track run that’s bookended by previous singles ‘For’ and ‘Here To There’, and includes ‘He Believes In Miracles’ and ‘Garden’.
It’s a relentlessly joyous run of tracks that doesn’t let off.
The vocal interplay on ‘He Believes in Miracles’ recalls The Beach Boys mesmeric harmonies; an admirably direct lyrical performance (“someone came and stole my heart/I don’t want it back”) is enveloped by a musical backdrop that encompasses Spanish guitar and glockenspiel.
‘Garden’ picks up on the same lyrical themes (“take me out to the garden… I feel new, I feel so alive”), but is a more frantic presence, percussively harking back to the energy of Radiohead’s ‘Bodysnatchers’ before a chorus that’s the closest thing to rock on the record.
Duncan then throws in a brilliant opening to the second verse (“take me out through the fire escape”), throwing in a little tension into the narrative, slipping from the walls of an unspecified building unnoticed.
The intricate ‘For’ incorporates some whistling into its central hook and the 80s pop feel of ‘Here To There’ oddly evokes Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’ in it’s first few seconds.
With such a strong and urgent opening two-thirds to Architect, it’s no surprise that the pace slows for ‘Novice’, ‘As Sleeping Stones’ and the chilled out ‘New Water’ with subtle strings adding texture to the former.
‘I’ll Be Gone By Winter’ brings proceedings to a suitably stunning close, a gorgeous slice of melancholy that brings snow and frost to even the most sweltering and clammy summer day.
It’s a blinder of a first record, showing a remarkable depth of songwriting ability and production skills – no steps are retaken and consequently even during what – in relative terms – is a less exciting final third, there’s never a dull moment.
And then there’s that title – Architect.
It’s an aptly named record, sketched out and fully realised, a unique proposition but ultimately all the more compelling for standing out from everything else.
C Duncan has built something spectacular, a record you could live inside for a month and that announces a songwriter destined for bigger and better things.
Words: Craig Angus