Canterbury, England's SPYGENIUS returns with a new double album, MAN ON THE SEA, to be released July 10 on Big Stir Records as a two-vinyl-LP gatefold set, double-length CD, and digital download. It's available for pre-order at www.bigstirrecords.com/store and at most online retailers now. Featuring 17 brand new tracks and lavish design work from the group's visual arts collaborator Joseph Champniss, the album showcases one of Britain's finest purveyors of literate psychedelic pop at the height of their melodic and genre-defying powers.
The ambitious new recording is at once sprawling and focused, dazzling and intimate, and continues exploring the themes of their previous album 'Pacéphale. The four sides are balanced between the intricate, sparkling, harmony-adorned jangle-pop for which the band is renowned and more contemplative explorations of loss and middle-aged regret, often expressed in the nautical imagery suggested by the collection's title. Befitting a band whose roots tap deeply into both the folk-psych sixties and the heyday of '80s college rock, Man On The Sea can be heard as Quadrophenia-by-way-of-Automatic For The People, with its stylistic diversions adding up to a questioning but ultimately exhilarating whole.
Man On The Sea is the fifth album from Spygenius, whose lineup – singer/guitarist/chief songwriter PETER WATTS, bassist/vocalist RUTH ROGERS, keyboardist/vocalist MATT BYRNE and drummer/vocalist ALAN CANNINGS – has developed an unmistakable vocal and instrumental chemistry since their 2008 debut and through near-constant gigging and touring in the UK and abroad. Their watershed 2017 album 'Pacéphale (released internationally by Big Stir Records) inaugurated the band's close partnership with visual artist and animator Champniss, whose strikingly whimsical videos and illustrations, combined with the record's sophisticated and beguiling songcraft, gained the band a wider global audience and set the stage for the new record's kaleidoscopic sweep.
Preceded by a trio of wry but musically exuberant singles – “Another True Story”, “If You Go A-Roving”, and the Rogers-penned-and-sung “Spite”, all bracingly immediate jangle-rock gems that received strong international airplay and reviews – Man On The Sea contains much that will scratch the same itch for expectant listeners. The lilting “Café Emery Hill”, the spritely-but-cautious “Salaud Days”, and the Beatles-esque “Watch Your Back” are all cut from the same cloth of catchy and very British pop perfection. They are, however, part of a deeper dive into troubled waters: the urgent drive of postpunk raveups like the R.E.M.-tinged “New Street”, the driving “In A Garden” and the genuinely harrowing “Don't Blame It On Your Mother” practically writhe with nervous energy.
The album's more reflective tunes likewise veer between the disquieting (the darkly humorous “Man Overboard” and the howling “Green Eyed Monster”) and the tentatively redemptive. The conciliatory likes of “Midnight Bandola” and the closing “Remember Me When I Was Good”, a pair of melancholy shuffles, offer the solace of a good drink with an old friend and a cautious celebration of “all the stuff that makes life worth the bother” respectively. Elsewhere jazz, dark folk, and delicately building psychedelia inform “Albion”, “Dolphinarium 1986” and “Windy” in turn, with all of them hinting at the yearning that's perhaps most palpable on the lush “Tomorrowland”: nostalgia for a future that never quite came to be.
That the seafaring voyage of Man On The Sea spans not only oceans, but decades as well, is no accident. “The Spygenius project has always been about not only writing new material, but also about realising quite a substantial back catalogue of tunes amassed over the years,” explains Watts. “I’ve actually found this quite fruitful artistically, because it creates a sort of de facto conversation between my older and younger selves, which is existentially revealing.”
It's thus that tunes dating back to Peter's early days in the appropriately-named Murrumbidgee Whalers (and songs ruminating on earlier times still) rub shoulders with the kind of arch commentary that could only reflect the grim realities of post-Brexit England, or the complicated grief of the passing of his mother on the closing “Remember Me”. “For me it’s almost era defining,” Watts offers. “Some of the songs were from before, everything else now on is from after, which is as yet largely uncharted waters… back to the ocean references.”
In its themes and by synthesizing the band's influences into a coherent amalgam of the exuberant, the urgent, and the bittersweet, Man On The Sea is at once a summation and a clearing of the deck for Spygenius. And as always, there's ample musical playfulness leavening the depths and darkness of the crossing. One can only marvel at the sturdiness and grace of the Good Ship Spygenius as she navigates these most treacherous of waters... long may she sail.