By: Chris Ball
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Released on October 21, 2016 via Communion Music
The title of Syd Arthur‘s new album Apricity is one of those old words that’s fallen out of common use and means, roughly, the feel of winter sun upon your skin. There’s some belief that it shares a derivation with apricot, which may explain the album covers mellow orange circle. Either way, the word summons warm fuzzy feelings, as you may have expected from these exponents of radio-friendly psychedelia.
The bands 2012 album, On An On bought them to many people’s attention – it’s where they perfected their mix of Canterbury scene pastoral and wiggier American and new world experimental rock, and 2014’s Sound Mirror was a confident follow up. The joy was in hearing their loose, unhurried playing somehow corralled into four minute pop gems. Where you may have initially expected the songs to have been part of some rambling side of vinyl, with themes played out repeatedly, the songs are succinctly wrapped up so that new ideas might quickly emerge.
Now that the band have that trick perfected you might expect musicians of an experimental bent to move on, and the sole disappointment of this album may be that they have failed to do so, instead of musically progressing, they have just become slicker at what they do. Each song here is a perfectly formed crystal, sparkling and beautiful, but with few rough edges or oddly interesting flaws.
Sitting soaking up the late summer sun it’s easy to hear this album as nothing more than accompaniment to lazy days, the provider of good vibes and sweet meaningless sing a-longs. However, once you listen to the lyrics you realise these are songs of anguish and fear, the ‘Apricity’ of its title, and also its final song, is desired from afar, or rather, is a stoic statement of intent – ‘I’m not moving still the sun shines on me‘.
We begin in a ‘Coal Mine’ and then deal with living with the fear of death foretold in ‘Plane Crash in Kansas’. There’s also the low level day-to-day stress of ‘No Peace’, one of the most striking musical/lyrical disparities here. Set to a pounding r n’b beat that recalls the heyday of Motown and sweeping upwards on Philly soul strings, while Liam Magill’s vocals (uncharacteristically) get ever more strident in their complaint, it’s a hissy fit you can dance to. It’s also a good example of the individual character and charms of the album somehow being diminished by the overall sheen of burbling pop prog synths and the flat, restrained delivery of Magill. There’s very little sign of the deranged fiddle playing or modern jazz interludes of previous records.
Perhaps as a consequence I find the instrumental track ‘Portal’ one of the most satisfying things here, the playing of the band able to shake the shackles of the song format and just take flight, briefly. ‘Seraphim’ also has a bit more grit about it, with some proper rock drumming from Josh Magill, and more light and shade in the production.
Taken individually I find these songs much more powerful, even putting the album on random play helps to liven things up…although as I say, closer attention to the lyrics brings little cheer. The quite beautiful ‘Into Eternity’ is angelic, floating atop a sun ray of languid melody. No prizes for guessing what it’s about, though, and actually lyrically its shockingly trite – best to close your eyes and zone out…
Apricity, ultimately, is gorgeous on the surface, but internally troubled and not as smart as it thinks it is. Best admired from afar and in short doses.