If one makes the pronouncement that their band "hails from Canterbury, England," one might assume that progressive rock might ensue. And while their Wikipedia page lists them as a "psychedelic jazz band, formed in Canterbury in 2003 by brothers frontman Liam and bassist Joel Magill, drummer Fred Rother and violinist Raven Bush," they sound more like a prog-pop band to my ears, albeit one of the best I've heard in ages. I happened to finally catch them in concert last week opening for the most-excellent UK-based singer-songwriter Jake Bugg at Terminal 5 in NYC. Strange pairing, but having missed them last year at the Mercury Lounge, I simply had to go. I admit that their name alone -- Syd Arthur, named after The Madcap Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett and Love leader Arthur Lee, who may or may not be construed as a prog rocker -- was intruiging enough for me to spend some time with their music. There is no doubt that they drink from the same fresh waters of their homeland, from the fertile springs that nourished early prog pioneers Caravan and Gente Giant with a touch of the "jazz" textures of Hatfield & The North and National Health.
While the lads didn't get to play a very long opening set, it was still impressive enough. Only took them one song to draw in the audience; great playing, great songs. To my ears, their live sound had a leaner texture then what I remembered hearing on CD. Now I was quite curious to hear them on vinyl. (This is a vinyl column, is it not? Why, yes it is, Mr. Cleese!) I picked up their second album On an On (released in 2013) for $20 from bassist Joel who worked the swag stand after the concert. Glad I did. When I dropped the needle to vinyl, I was transported back to my basement bedroom in Akron, Ohio, circa 1974 with my black light posters and incense burning. My poor mother mumbling upstairs that I was ruining my hearing. Ah, breathe it in...
Songs like "Ode To Summer" bounce with an urgency aided by snap rhythms that immediately draw you to the center of the sun. The lyrics cloaked in a love lost and hope for brighter and warmer days as lead singer/guitarist Liam croons: "I look to the sky with sunken eyes / For the feeling of summer has left me behind." The mandolin's groove keeps it percolating along until 4:10 seconds later it stops on a dime. And the addictive ballad "Dorothy" lopes along with just enough sonic textures that require repeated listens to pick them up -- the deft cymbal work of drummer Fred Rother, the shimmering vintage keyboard tones of Raven Bush... again, no wasted notes, as it draws to a close 4:17 later. "Moving World" has a stutter and stop jazz syncopation that could be a left over track from Mahavishnu Orchestra's Birds of Fire album with Raven's violin soaring above the groove.
Some critics have suggested that the lads could become the next Genesis with these concise, melodic tunes. Not a bad band to emulate given their success. And why not? The world needs more prog, especially prog this smart and catchy.
Syd Arthur's fourth album -- Apricity (Harvest Records) -- drops on October 26th. Order it today. If it's half as good as On an On, it'll be worth the effort.
Mr. Wright is a content creator and cultural curator. He was a contributor to the Huffington Post, former DJ at David Lynch's Transcendental Music Radio, the former editor of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and television. He's also a singer/songwriter who has released five solo albums and one with folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.