Over the course of her previous six albums, Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Amy Duncan has blossomed into one of Scottish contemporary music’s most singular talents. For her seventh album, The Hidden World, Duncan took over the production reins and played all the instruments herself, except for percussion and tablas (both played by Guy Nicholson). The new album has all the hallmarks we’ve come to expect from an Amy Duncan record…direct, personal song-writing; intimate, heartfelt vocals; and crystalline, multi-layered soundscapes.
In the title track, The Hidden World, Amy Duncan’s chiming guitar is paired with hypnotic tablas, as her delicate vocals swoop and soar. Later in the song, multi-tracked vocals and synths produce a quietly euphoric effect, recalling Kate Bush in her prime. The gently lilting Labyrinth features vocals with enough warmth to melt the iciest heart, as Duncan reflects on her mortality, then brushes it aside in uplifting fashion. Meanwhile, bass, percussion and synths whip up a quiet storm in the bridge, over the repeated lines: ”The mind controls, but what does the body want?”
Rippling, harp-like synths create a sense of airiness and space in The Whole Town, suggesting the vantage point from which Amy Duncan is gaining perspective through surveying the town below, while the use of lower register vocals enhance the song’s intimacy and emotional depth. Ethereal vocals and graceful, minimalist piano produce a hymn-like quality in White Horse (“In the quiet of a dream, I find her down by a stream, waiting for me”). Elegant piano chords provide the foundation for Amy Duncan to showcase the diversity of her vocal range to stunning effect in the mysterious and magical A Forest.
Amy Duncan’s prodigious bass playing makes a very welcome return on this album (this time, it’s an electric upright bass) and it’s fair to say that the bass parts on some of the songs (the title track, for example) are quite remarkable.
Inspired by the formidable Gorgon in Greek mythology, Medusa combines Duncan’s crisp, ringing guitar with tumbling tabla rhythms, rumbling bass and washes of synths and synth strings, as she sings movingly of triumph over adversity (“The feeling is returning, like an awakening in the morning”). Brooding piano chords, cushioned by synths, provide the backdrop for the gentle caress of Amy Duncan’s vocals in the reflective and cathartic The Dark Room. Featuring exhilarating vocals, prominent percussion, criss-crossing guitar and bass lines and jazzy synth runs, the freewheeling Make It Good recalls the 1970s heyday of Pentangle and closes the album in uplifting style (“This is a choice to make, make it good or watch it break”).
Amy Duncan’s music acts as a soothing balm and is the perfect antidote for the uncertain times in which we live. The Hidden World is a beautiful album, which deserves to be widely heard.
The Hidden World was released by Filly Records on 12th June 2020.