HEALTH, the new album by Scottish multi-instrumentalist C Duncan, could be the mirror image of its 2016 predecessor The Midnight Sun.

That album’s eerie beauty and lush, spooky melodies were composed in Christopher Duncan’s Glasgow’s flat – mostly during the hours of darkness.

Like his Mercury Prize-nominated debut Architect, The Midnight Sun was written and recorded by Duncan alone, the musician and self-taught visual artist only adding further musicians when he stepped out to play live.

Each record is a masterclass in elegance, their meticulous artwork matched by music which is impeccably structured and emotionally rich.

With Health, Duncan’s music has lost none of those qualities. Here they are part of a sound that is more expansive, varied and – for the first time in his career – features other musicians, such as producer Craig Potter of Elbow, a couple of familiar string players and the Halle Youth Choir.

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The mood feels lighter, almost joyful in parts. All azures, yellows and greens, its cover art recalls David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash. But in Duncan’s painting, the water has not been disturbed by a bather. There’s not a soul in sight.

That’s maybe significant: for while these songs often have a tone of carefree contentment, their lyrics tell of heartache and anxiety.

There’s Impossible, an airy groove inspired by Duncan’s new-found love of Japanese city pop, the decidedly dancey Pulses And Rain, and Holiday Home, a song as sunny as you might expect. That’s until you listen to the content of Duncan’s vocals, which, at 29, remain as angelic as ever.

“It’s a funny record,” Duncan says. “While a lot of it sounds really cheery and upbeat, the themes are a bit more sombre than before. I wanted to have that juxtaposition so it wasn’t all doom and gloom, and have a bit of fun with some fairly sad songs with some quite over-the-top breezy sounds in the melody and arrangements.”

He continues: “Whereas Midnight Sun is its own record from start to finish, with this record I wanted more ups and downs, more colour, for each song to have its own identity.”

Again, Duncan initially worked on the songs for Health alone at home. In May 2018 he took them to Potter at Salford’s Blueprint Studios, home to much of Elbow’s back catalogue.

Accompanying him were his father and mother, a violinist and a viola player with long professional careers. Now largely retired, Mark and Janina Duncan are responsible for the strings on Health.

“It was something I had always wanted to do with them but I had never been able to record strings before,” says Duncan.

“Because I had that opportunity this time I just thought: ‘I’m going to go for it’ and wrote them lots of string parts. They loved being in the studio and doing something totally different to what they usually do.”

Working with Potter helped open up the record to more influences and afforded Duncan the time to work on lyrics which are poetic and highly personal. Though daunting at first, exposing his heart was therapeutic.

“I am so used to drowning everything that I write in reverb,” Duncan says. “Usually, you can never really make out the words, they just come in and out of focus. This time, the lyrics came first. I wanted this to be an album where you could actually hear what I was saying. It was really good for me.”

He adds: “Writing this record was a very cathartic process. It helped me through a lot of tough times and also to celebrate the good.”