THE VIDEO FOR APRICITY‘s title track shows Syd Arthur hunched over their instruments playing in near darkness, lit only by flashing shapes and amorphous blobs of colour. It’s suggestive of that clip in most BBC4 documentaries about the ’60s, the one with Pink Floyd at the UFO club lit only by flashing shapes and amorphous blobs of colour.
The idea of some mystical ley line connecting this young Canterbury quartet and their ancient musical forebears is a romantic one. But while they share a home city with Soft Machine and Caravan, their fourth album suggests the connection is now mostly geographical.
Syd Arthur still dabble in jazz, folk, Krautrock and saucer-eyed psychedelia, but Apricity is a notable leap forward, even from 2014’s excellent Sound Mirror. this is a group who’ve opened for Paul Weller and Yes and are about to tour with Jake Bugg. And it shows. Apricity is oddball, trippy pop music that leapfrogs boundaries and eras.
There have been changes since Sound Mirror. New drummer Josh Magill brings Syd Arthur’s sibling count up to three, next to bass player Joel and vocalist/guitarist Liam Magill. Apricity was also produced by Jellyfish/Beck collaborator Jason Falkner in Los Angeles. Have Syd Arthur ‘gone American’? hardly, but Falkner has made them sound slicker.
Strangely, the album gets off to a slightly false start. Atmospheric as they are, opening pair Coal Mine and Plane Crash In Kansas don’t quite match what follows. instead, it all bursts into life with No Peace followed by the single, Sun Rays. The first is all sing-song melodies and swooping strings, the second a mournful love letter to days or people gone by, driven by Raven Bush’s surging, EDM-style keys. imagine Tame Impala if Kevin Parker had spent his formative years at rave parties in the Kent woods rather than stoned out of his gourd in Perth.
What Syd Arthur still share with those older Canterbury groups is that their music positively shimmers. The ballad Into Eternity conjures up Liam Magill floating around the cosmos singing from inside a space suit. Seraphim is 21st Century prog, stuffed with woozy, crashing power chords, while the exquisite Evolution has the same fuzziness around the edges heard on, yes, the first Soft Machine and Caravan records. And is that a flute in the background?
Syd Arthur might have illustrated the title track with a psychedelic light show in their video. But its persistent riff and jabbing rhythm places it in the here and now. It’s the final song on this album, but could be the first song on the next. In many ways, Apricity suggests Syd Arthur’s strange trip has only just begun.