There’s nothing about Syd Arthur that screams ‘contemporary’. The Canterbury band draws from the late 60s and early 70s music of its birthplace (think Caravan and Soft Machine), that quirky, jazzy psychedelic pop that unsurprisingly found favour with prog rock audiences of the time. The quartet is even signed to revived British prog rock label Harvest! But that’s the group’s advantage. By concentrating on that era’s virtues - accessible melodics, deft musicianship, an inviting sense of whimsy - Syd Arthur avoid any whiff of trendiness and just get down to the business of writing and performing timeless music on their second album Sound Mirror.
Let’s get a few things out of the way, for those who may be new to the band. The name comes from the title of Herman Hesse’s spiritual journey novel Siddhartha. Or else it’s an homage to Syd Barrett and the Kinks’ 1969 album Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire). Accounts differ. The moniker works both ways, though
Psychedelia has a wide array of definitions, from surreal pastoral folk to kaleidoscopic pop doused in electronic effects to heavy rock that shimmers like a foreboding mirage. Syd Arthur lean toward the two former, with a funky jazz inflection reminiscent of the Mahavishnu Orchestra as an array of electronic and acoustic elements dance in complex, compound-metre orbits
Their mix of technical prowess and pop sensibility is put immediately on display with album opener ‘Garden of Time’, which skitters along neatly in its unconventional time signature, yet remains surprisingly accessible. A more noticeable shift toward something new occurs with the lead single ‘Hometown Blues’, an enchanting, piano-led rocker with a sort of early-Waterboys mystique and a wonderfully snaky melody. Another foray into more pop-minded territory is the excellent ‘Autograph’, which trips back and forth from tight, percolating punchiness to lovely, spaced-out bliss in just of three-and-a-half minutes. And this brevity is what is unique about how Syd Arthur approach their game. They offer the feeling of prog and psych rock in digestible, single-serving sizes. Only one track on Sound Mirror exceeds four minutes (Garden of Time)
While nothing really rocks in the traditional sense of taking no prisoners, ‘Hometown Blues’ and ‘Chariots’ work up a good head of steam, while ‘What’s Your Secret’ and ‘Forevermore’ favour more atmospheric and lilting flavors
A departure from the general business is “Backwardstepping”, a bare-bones singer/songwriter number with a vaguely bossa-nova acoustic guitar backing and tasteful, subdued violin adding just the right amount of colour
Even their most free-form freakout, the instrumental ‘Singularity’’ only lets its hair down for a few minutes before shifting into the dramatic (and brief) closer ‘Sink Hole’.
If indeed they are carrying the torch for the classic Canterbury sound, they’re doing it smartly and on their own unique terms, with another impressive stop on their road of discovery
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