Syd Arthur are a psych prog band from Canterbury, England. Given their name, one might assume the band partake in complicated, extended prog jams with inscrutable lyrics along the lines of perhaps Gong and Caravan. Despite what it’s title seems to indicate, even their first album On And On (2012), has an average song length of just over three minutes. Brothers Liam, Joel and Josh Magill and multi-instrumentalist Raven Bush (yes his auntie is THE Kate Bush) came from a background of forest party raves. They are equally comfortable with technology, bucolic elemental mysticism, otherworldly musicianship, jazz inspired improvisation and disciplined songwriting. This is all evident in sharp focus on their third album, Apricity, an archaic word which means the feel of the warm sun on your skin in the winter that sparks a yearning for Aprilness, the early days of spring. Yearning for warmer days, a better past or future, is an ongoing theme, from the first album’s “Ode To The Summer” to “Garden Of Time” on Sound Mirror (2014) to “Sun Rays” and “Apricity.” Their music has a dreamy, wistful quality that took a while to take hold, but once it got under my skin with Sound Mirror, it was stuck there, and I’ve been craving more ever since. Apricity doesn’t disappoint.
The band has really honed their songcraft, which of course is a good thing, except for the fact that they have reigned in Raven Bush’s violin parts in favor of his keyboard work. It’s hardly a departure, but rather a linear progression toward where they were always headed. They played much of the new album at their Riot Fest set before I had heard most of them, and it was magical. Compared to the hordes packed in to the stages for Rob Zombie, Sleater-Kinney and Misfits, it was just a small group of 25 fans, but every single person was wide-eyed and transfixed. While the arrangements and changes aren’t overtly complex and tricky, their perfect performance created a bubble of sound around us that vibrated with electricity and feeling. It’s hard to pinpoint what tips the difference from musicianship that is perhaps too professional to the point of sterility, and what Syd Arthur achieved that evening. The band worked through three sets of demos in their Bramble Hall farm rehearsal space in Kent and Wicker studio in London, then went to Los Angeles to record the album with producer Jason Falkner of Jellyfish. Their craft paid off right from the start, on “Coal Mine,” with the very first guitar line a killer melody that is stickier than anything Coldplay has ever come up with. And when the bird takes flight over the sea, the music soars in turn, and I’ve already got goosebumps less than three minutes in.
“No Peace” and “Apricity” feature bubbly, syncopated rhythms that hark back to Motown and Philly soul, which can partly be attributed to Josh Magill who replaced previous drummer Fred Rother. The band has toured with The Jam’s Paul Weller who they bonded with over shared love of soul. Less overtly catchy at first, “Rebel Lands” combines the band’s strengths into a tour de force that rewards repeated listens with it’s multiple layers. While there’s plenty of darkness in the lyrics, the band can’t help but sound hopeful, even joyous on “Seraphim.” The bittersweet “Sun Rays” has very simple lyrics that takes flight with the transcendent music. The single was released in the summer and has since made appearances in my dreams, and live makes the heart soar. What more can you ask for? Even the instrumental “Portal” packs an emotional punch. “Evolution” dives deep into bubbling electronica, while exuding more warmth than anything Radiohead has done. The band simply can do no wrong on any of the ten tracks. It makes me keenly interested to hear what nine tracks that didn’t make the album are like. Hopefully some were recorded and will be released on subsequent B-sides or an EP. Because my only complaint is that at 42:55, I’m left wanting more, despite the fact that it is longer than the previous two albums. If others find themselves in the same boat, they can seek out their cover of Led Zeppelin’s “In The Light” from a MOJO compilation, A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble (Amorphous Androgynous Remixes) (2015) and their Moving World EP from 2011.
While comparisons have been made to Tame Impala, Temples, White Denim and Eyes & No EyesBlossoms, in terms of making an album this year as great as Apricity, the band doesn’t really have any peers, except for probably Wolf People with their upcoming Ruins.