C Duncan – Health (4 stars)

C Duncan – Health

Scottish multi-instrumentalist's third album features some of his most intimate, introspective songs

Until now, the celestial sounds of C Duncan have been created solo from within the confines of his bedroom 'studio', essentially one laptop and some tiny top-of-the-range speakers. There, he'd layer up instruments to achieve a rapturous resonance and overdub his choirboy voice to produce an angelic host.

But the classically trained Duncan is not one to repeat himself. For his third album, he's stepped out of the bedroom and into the world of studio collaboration, recording for the first time with other musicians – including his parents, both classical musicians – in a capacious Salford studio with Elbow's Craig Potter as producer.

Yet this move from his hermetic set-up has come at a time when Duncan has written his most intimate, introspective songs, setting emotionally raw lyrics on relationship break-ups and mental health struggles against the added studio sheen and luxurious layers of the music. That greater polish is evident from the off, on the sleek synth pop of taster single 'Impossible' which applies disco strings to bittersweet sentiments about the rigours of a long distance relationship.

Such overt pop moments alternate with Duncan's signature sumptuous pastoral pop. The familiar romantic sweep of 'Wrong Side of the Door' is a slow waltz through a gorgeous European melodrama with Duncan delicately declaring 'now that you've gone, I can move on'. Meanwhile, 'He Came from the Sun' is a graceful paean, exquisitely orchestrated to ebb and flow as Duncan builds up 'to tell the world who I really am'.

The symphonic jazz funk grooviness of the blithe 'Blasé' belies Duncan's frustration at its indifferent protagonist, while the smooth, sophisticated 'Stuck Here with You' glides along effortlessly, like Steely Dan with the Fifth Dimension on backing vocals, before the album ends with its most heart-breaking juxtaposition of musical peace and lyrical pain. The tranquil choral lullaby 'Care' simply resonates to the rafters.

Out Fri 29 Mar on FatCat Records.

C Duncan

Scottish singer-songwriter nominated for a Mercury Award.

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