Syd Arthur - On and On
Posted by Guest Writer on Mon, 18 Jun 2012.
The late 60's and early 70's were punctuated with psychedelia and prog-rock. The centre of English prog and psychedelic music was the Canterbury scene, which procured artists like Comus, Steve Hillage, and Soft Machine. Elements of all of these flow through Syd Arthur's début album, 'On and On', creating a musical nostalgia trip that dreamily recreates ye prog days of olde.
'On and On' shifts between songs that gently float past and erratic, volatile pieces that will keep you guessing. But it all arrives at the same end-point – the quixotic English psychedelic bands of the 60s and 70s. Hints of varying subtly can be found of Steely Dan and Frank Zappa, but Syd Arthur is much more Caravan. The oblique riffing may be difficult to follow for listeners who just want to hear the folkier side of the album, but for the predisposition towards more complex musical ideas, every song is rich with musical ideas, even if they sometimes need deciphering before appreciation can begin.
The pseudo-orchestral attack of the record combined with the elusive rhythmic and melodic suggestions can give the album a charmingly intimidating feel at first – violins and mandolins work in conjunction with more typical band instruments on heavily composed motifs carried through fairly short songs; if there's any complaint with the instrumentation, the progressive heritage perhaps demands slightly more noodling, but this could be just another reason to catch Syd Arthur live.
Flying over the band are Liam Magill's vocals. With no harmony, Liam stands alone, but his interesting, distinct sound help the vocals jump out of the mix. The peculiar feel of the band carry over to the vocals, treating them with equal instrumentation. Though it makes them musically delightful to listen to, this sometimes masks the lyrics in the haze. With more concentration, the lyrics, though not overwhelmingly narrative, are clever and fit well to the music, building more onto the nebulous atmosphere of psychedelia's chemical background.
The album bursts into life with 'First Difference', a breezy mid-tempo opener that eases the listener into the atmosphere; from the very beginning to the culmination of the album, the sound and style is consistently representative of its roots. Cavorting through odd meters at its own leisure, 'Edge of the Earth' feels like a build-up, though as it pours into 'Ode to the Summer', the tension seems to be forgotten rather than relieved
'Dorothy' is a feather-light jazz canticle, a brief reprieve before the band dives back into the rougher waters of 'Truth Seeker'. The pulse of the song is without a doubt askew, but in the context, this fits perfectly, combining with the half-dissonance of the track, a summary of Syd Arthur as a whole – clearly angular, but without this, the music wouldn't work so well.
'Night Shaped Light' and 'Promise Me' continue this theme, while 'Black Wave' reverses it's polarity several times between serenity and upbeat effervescence. The vocal lines of 'Moving World' are as curiously slippery as the song itself, once again proving highly changeable within four minutes. The final track of the album, 'Paradise Lost', is easily twice the length of any other song on the album at nine minutes, but is simply a more protracted construction of the rest of the album. Not that this is a bad thing – while the rest of the album sometimes feels condensed, giving the last track a chance to breathe offers the listener a different perspective on the band's modus operandi. 'Paradise Lost's several distinct sections feel much more progressive than the rest of the album, closing 'On and On' with the appropriate weirdness.
One could argue that Syd Arthur bring nothing to the table that hadn't already been done by the bands they allude to, but with the appropriate references, 'On and On' is better yet a homage to a scene forty years gone. Nobody told Syd Arthur that, but for more contemporary psychedelic rock, we'd do better to let them keep at it: they're onto something good.
'On and On' will be available on July 4th, from Dawn Chorus Records. Syd Arthur will be appearing at Sandwich Folk Festival, Green Man Festival and Smugglers Festival, as well as Lounge On The Farm in Canterbury, and will be playing at The Farmhouse in Kent on June 29th. For full list of dates, visit the band's website (http://sydarthur.co.uk/), where their music is available for purchase.
- Review by Dan