Earl Grey, lol. See what they did there? Sure, it’s the kind of sweetly silly title that sounds like it spent some time on the back of a hand in biro, but it also says a lot about the casual humour and peculiarly English melancholy that Girl Ray stand for. Formed two years ago, the band, (whose name is itself another pun on the experimental artist Man Ray), have experienced a rapid ascent, performing on Marc Riley’s BBC 6 Music show after just a few months together. It was an appearance that earned them comparisons to Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Cate Le Bon – high praise indeed. So after a handful of singles, including 2016’s marvellous ‘Trouble’, and a successful stint touring with Moshi Moshi labelmates Teleman, expectations are high for this record. Thankfully, there’s a lot more to Earl Grey than wonky wordplay: it builds on the promise of those early singles to create a world that combines an impressive singularity with a healthy reverence for classic pop tropes.

The band have professed a love for Todd Rundgren in previous interviews, and it’s the lolloping rhythms that defined Rundgren’s work which also snake through Earl Grey – particularly on lead single ‘Don’t Go Back at Ten’. Languid, a little bit funk-influenced, all hesitant falsetto and slow-motion guitar lines – much of the album comes on like a 70s slow-burner as played by The Waitresses (whose ‘Christmas Wrapping’ the band actually covered last year). But there are frequent nods to other decades scattered throughout: ‘Ghosty’ takes its cues from the Sarah Records archive, notably The Field Mice. And the latter part of the album – closer ‘Waiting Ages’, and the beautiful ‘Where Am I Now’ – sees the group give freer rein to a burgeoning soul ambition: they might sound like an etherised Velvelettes, but the effect is irresistible.

Elsewhere, unexpected instrumental flourishes brighten and add texture to what could have been an overly soporific affair. ‘Monday Tuesday’, with its delicious brass interlude, and the exquisite tempo shift that elevates ‘A Few Months’ into something resembling an Afropop cut, are just two examples from a record which, although it often unfolds at a tranquil pace, never really stands still. Even the 13-minute title track ‘Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove)’ justifies its long runtime with several stylistic shifts including intense vocal chants and ambient piano passages. It’s in these gently psychedelic moments that the comparisons with Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci are fully borne out; elsewhere, the strings on ‘Preacher’ are particularly reminiscent of GZM’s classic Gorky 5.

If you were to listen to Earl Grey without registering the lyrics, you’d assume it was a breezy affair – whimsical, even. In fact, Polly Hankin ("The Finchley Nico") is a more downbeat songwriter than Girl Ray’s bright arrangements might initially suggest. Lyrically, Earl Grey embraces the kind of persistent melancholy found at the heart of many great English bands: ‘Stupid Things’ laments the ridiculous steps taken by the protagonist "just to feel close to you"; ‘Monday Tuesday’ recounts a week-long convalescence as "just something that I’ve got to do"; the final exasperated line of ‘Preacher’'s chorus "what am I supposed to do?" For all its widescreen sadness, however, there is always the frequently delightful counterpoint of the language around Hankin’s adolescent yearning. "Believe me when I tell you you’re the one I really like," she implores on opener ‘Just Like That’ – and for a minute she sounds so earnest, so full of unchecked longing, that we really like her back.

Earl Grey is a strikingly mature and confident debut album, which acknowledges and consolidates Girl Ray’s influences in a way that doesn’t obscure their own puckish style. That’s a desperately difficult trick to pull off – and what’s frightening is that, most of the time, they sound like they’re not even trying. See what they did there?