Album Reviews

C Duncan – Alluvium

(Bella Union) UK release date: 6 May 2022

The Glaswegian’s music soars skywards, vocals dovetailing with windswept textures and probing guitar lines

C Duncan - Alluvium If ever the title of an album matched the qualities of its music, this is it. Alluvium could carry the same definition as the noun itself – ‘a deposit of clay… left by flowing floodwater in a river valley or delta, typically producing fertile soil’.

C Duncan is tending the soil in question, and in the three years since his last album Health he has been busy moulding a fresh output of 13 beautifully layered and meaningful songs, with a tender instrumental Lullaby at the album’s heart for good measure.

A classically trained musician, Duncan could easily rise to the challenge of a solo keyboard album, given the interplay between the hands here, but only as long as we get to keep his songwriting craft elsewhere.

The Glaswegian knows exactly how to get to the heart of the matter. The music of Alluvium soars skywards when his falsetto is involved, the vocals dovetailing with windswept textures and probing guitar lines as they have on his best work to date. Yet this is not a re-tread of previous successes, for Duncan continues to mature as a songwriter, recounting tales with pinpoint accuracy while tugging at the heartstrings with subtle but meaningful chord changes.

There is subtle humour, too. “We’re at the end,” he proclaims at the start of the album, though as the first song Air proceeds it soon becomes clear that he is closing one door and opening another. The sense of new beginnings is reinforced by Heaven, a smile-inducing pop song rich in character and chromatic harmony, and Earth, where the lyrics need no interpretation. “It’s time to leave the Earth,” he sings cheerily, “turn the TV off and pack your photographs”. The yearning harmonies respond in turn, the final piano resonating in a dreamlike state as he strays “far away from the mess we have made”.

This blend of questioning lyrics and positive music works extremely well. The poised electro pop of I Tried draws comparisons with the best work of Paddy McAloon, the potentially awkward melody easily negotiated by Duncan’s confident vocals. The whistling refrain for Bell Toll is familiar and comforting, harking back to the glories of debut album Architect, while We Have A Lifetime is more settled, an elegant waltz over gently rippling guitar.

Romance is also in the air. Torso gives its heart to a significant other, receiving much more in return, its emotional profit reflected in the heady music. “You came and took the fear away,” sings Duncan, the music swelling in response. The Wedding Song continues this loving mood but its themes are more familial, with Duncan’s parents – both classical musicians – providing the exquisitely scored string parts. The final Upon The Table, another romantic song, is the ideal complement.

With Alluvium, C Duncan reaches a career peak, his most satisfying record to date in an output already noted for its consistency. For it to be released at the height of spring is timely, for springlike shoots of recovery course through the album, offering rich blooms for its audience. Fertile soil indeed.

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