Syd Arthur hail from pretty auspicious origins. Albion rock’s new scions are based in Canterbury and their sound imbibes that city’s rich musical vintage of the late 60’s/early 70’s. Not only do Syd Arthur hark back to the fecund blending of psychedelia, progressive rock, jazz and folk peddled by bands like Soft Machine and Caravan, they have some pretty esteemed relatives too. Raven Bush- the group’s very own John Paul Jones, adding strings and exotic textures- is nephew to none other than Kate Bush. As with Raven’s aunt, the band operates within a creatively autonomous, vertically integrated framework. They created a recording space, Wicker Studios, in 2009 where they engineer and produce themselves and run their own label, Dawn Chorus Recordings. The lexicon for all this is a pretty good indication of where they are at, tapping into Britain’s visionary recent and distant past. The appellation Syd Arthur brings with it intimations of Arthurian legend while Syd recalls Barrett, Pink Floyd’s original interstellar pilot.
Moving World (from forthcoming debut album, On An On, released July 2nd) is a sumptuous ladleful from their hippy gumbo. Thick chiselled riffage carves a bluesy territory before the song opens out into a lilting, jazzy efflorescence. Several of their songs follow this structure, like wading through a thicket that clears out into some pastoral bower. The classic Canterbury sound is present and correct; shifting time signatures and jazz-rock chops a la Soft Machine, a mood both lightly whimsical and deadly serious. But something in their grit and bucolic reverie is redolent of early Traffic. Liam Magill’s hawk-eyed vocals are equal part parts Kevin Ayers’ puckish soul and David Crosby‘s plangent choirboy. The song briefly disperses into ambient ether, doffing its cap to more modern sonic explorations. Syd Arthur may ‘chase, lost distant dreams’ like the character in Moving World but in their melding of analogue and digital techniques, theirs is no retrogressive quest.
A tight unit then whose rough-cut rock formations allow for intricate layers of foliage. Last year’s Moving World EP already provided a showcase for their varicoloured talents; a sprightly Jethro Tull-esque jig here (Planet Love), a bit of Afro-beat minstrelsy there (Pulse). Syd Arthur have honed their skills as a live act. Their knack of nimbly dipping between improvisational flights and a solid funky economy translates equally well to the studio. A new harvest reaped on old pastures.