C Duncan’s third album ‘Health’ (out on 29 March via FatCat Records) finds the Scottish multi-instrumentalist working with other producers, engineers and musicians for the first time. His most personal work yet, it tackles issues of relationships, mental health and sexuality with honesty and humour – and wraps them all up in swaying harmonies delicious dollops of psychedelia.
The poppy and peppy ‘Talk Talk Talk’ opens the album with bursts of Dutch Uncles-style art pop guitar work, pulsating synths and upbeat handclaps as Duncan delivers lines urging you to ‘take all the sadness away’ in a striking falsetto. He also beams with optimism as he sings ‘You say that there will be showers. I’ll wait. you know I’ll bring you flowers’. There’s a more eerie and unsettling sound in the ’60s-influenced ‘Wrong Side of the Door’ as Duncan reveals: ‘I only recalled yesterday how it could feel to sleep in solitude’ and ‘Now that you’ve gone, I can move on and leave you standing there while I break in two’.
‘He Came From the Sun’ is an important song written around the time of the anti-gay purges in Chechyna. It’s inspired by Duncan’s own experience of coming out and follows a martyr who symbolises the ongoing fight for gay rights. It opens in a psychedelic Wild Beasts style before stirring strings come out and the character declares: ‘I was old enough to tell the world who I really am’. The following ‘Holiday Home’ couldn’t be more different. Written to cheer up Duncan’s dad during a time of need, it has ‘Club Tropicana’ vibes and is bursting with positivity as layers of vocals are embedded across upbeat sound effects and big beats. It will transport you to a stunning destination with a more relaxed way of life – a place where a home is ‘built for two with an ‘air of tranquility’.
Other touchpoints throughout the record could be Charlie Barnes, Girl Ray and Patrick Wolf, although ‘Blase’ has more of a lounge jazz sound that soon evolves into fuzzed-up guitar. It finds Duncan in defiant mood: ‘I got to do what I came here to do’ before then revealing someone has been fucking everything up and pushing him away: ‘Hey, what do you know? How do you sleep so well at night?’ The theatrical ‘Reverie’ is a slow-burner that gives C Duncan the chance to show off his fantastic falsetto, while the abstract music complements the dark lyrical content: ‘He told me not to tell you there’s life in hesitancy’; ‘I sometimes think about it, my life under the sea’; ‘I tried to wash the dirt out but look what happened to me’.
‘Pulses & Rain’ has big beats, handclaps and a Hot Chip-style disco sound that bounces around your head, although the subject matter seems rather feverish: ‘It’s not unreasonable to feel so vulnerable’. The penultimate ‘Stuck Here With You’ is a piano-led piece with sing-along harmonies as Duncan tells the story of a character who shared his fortune with dire consequences and ‘Care’ finishes the album with orchestral vocals and darkness: ‘I’m falling down and I don’t seem to care’.
With ‘Health’, C Duncan has made a potent pop record full of pleasing hooks, intriguing characters and stories that will stay with you for a long time.