Music

Syd Arthur: Sound Mirror

The band's latest statement shows that psychedelic, progressive rock can still sound fresh, while also drawing from past trailblazers.


Syd Arthur

Sound Mirror

Label: Harvest
US Release Date: 2014-05-20
UK Release Date: 2014-06-02
Amazon
iTunes

First, let’s get a few things out of the way, for those who may be new to Syd Arthur. 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.

In addition, violin/mandolin player Raven Bush is art rock legend Kate Bush’s nephew. Not that that’s here nor there, except it maybe sheds some light on his and the band’s musical leanings.

And what of the music? The music is damn good. In simple terms, it’s an updated take on classic psychedelic rock, akin to what bands such as Dungen and Tame Impala are doing. Yet, while Tame Impala may have a more modern sheen to their brand of psych, Syd Arthur are unabashedly old school. Playing the kind of music they do, and hailing from Canterbury, U.K., comparisons to the bands of the ‘60’s and ’70’s Canterbury Scene (Gong, Soft Machine, Caravan, etc.) are unavoidable. Yet Syd Arthur isn’t as avant-garde as most of those bands. They’re more grounded in folk and conventional song structures. Their folk is a very funky, jazzy folk, however. The band is also on the revived Harvest record label, known in its early 1970’s heyday as the home of Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Roy Harper, and the aforementioned Syd Barrett. Syd Arthur is just the type of band that would have been on the roster then, as well.

Sound Mirror is the quartet’s second full-length, and it finds them mining the same cosmic yet earthy sounds of their previous album and EPs. Lead track "Garden of Time" sets the tone and is particularly strong with a memorable melody line, jazzy guitar textures, and chanted vocal passages mixed with lyrics like "Garden of time will unfold / The garden of time you behold / Counting the days till your surrender / Our journey step into forever" and a stormy, effects-laden instrumental break.

Complex band interplay drives most of the tracks, at times bringing to mind Close to the Edge-era Yes. Things are much more concise here, though, with the majority of tracks clocking in at under four minutes (a trait that’s very unusual for a band in this genre). And, though the songs often feel as if they’ll fly off into untethered phantasmagoric journeys, they always return quickly to the structural backbone.

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 color.

There’s a bit of a nasal whine in Liam Magill’s vocals. He isn’t the strongest lead vocalist, but he’s also the lead guitar player and it’s there that his talents most shine. "Chariots", in particular, has a gloriously fuzzed-out, lysergic guitar solo. Perhaps because they’re such a focused, unified band, the solo is a bit short, ending just when it’s starting to get interesting. Luckily, the song flows into "Singularity", a guitar heavy instrumental.

While Syd Arthur still sounds young, mainly in the lead vocal department, with each release they sound a bit more weathered and assured. This latest statement shows that psychedelic, progressive rock can still sound fresh, while also drawing from past trailblazers. Sound Mirror is the mark of a band in it for the long haul who will undoubtedly get better and better as time goes by. One to watch.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image