Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Syd Arthur On and On meta-review

I've been meaning to write something about this album since it came out. But having become friends with the band, it's hard to get an objective view. Naturally, I think it's a brilliant piece of work, but I've decided that rather than just stringing a load of superlatives together, I'd compile bits of other peoples' reviews into a kind of meta-review [and this doesn't include the four-star feature review in Mojo which can't be found online]:

From The 405:

Impressively the band have already become so proficient in the studio that they chose to engineer, produce and mix their debut themselves, and this attention to detail and passion is a key feature of the LP... You sense that this group have been cultivating their intelligent and complex sound for years before committing it to record, yet it's evident that they are unafraid to experiment...Syd Arthur have the ability to sound as if they have a whole orchestra behind them, much of this down to the beautiful violin playing of Raven Bush who at times delicately plucks and then viciously scrapes across the strings...Syd Athur are a rarity these days; in a world of musicians who know very little about its intricacies, they stand proud in their ability to deliver progressive music that happily references the past.

From The Maroon Cafe:

Behind the cryptic name that is Syd Arthur, hide four chaps from Kent or should I say from a secret time-space garden of the seventies bathed in rich jazz-folk-rock sunlight. Although this musical garden is still quite secretive...its gate is opening more and more widely to lands beyond the British Isles with a first LP "On and On". The intricacy of the instrumental arrangements — Santana-esque guitars that break into full rock riffs, jazz rhythm patterns added to clear ringing violins — along with very distinct lead vocals...makes you wonder if they're not hiding the fountain of youth in some bush with music so wise beyond its years.

"Ode to the Summer" introduces the bands rock facet as the guitars grow more distorted, and drums more powerful. "Truth Seeker" doesn't pull it's punches as far as rock goes – bumping the sound level a few good notches up particularly during the raucous bridge. "Promise Me" partakes in this sound as does "Moving World". However "Black Wave" plays to the band's folk feel, as the violin gains more ground and the rhythm grows less raucous, just like "Dorothy" portrays these lads ability to intertwine jazz elements to their music. The track sheds like on all the hues of the lead vocals, as guitar chords are unassumingly strummed and one drifts into a daydream with uncanny ease.

From fit4talent:

Here, on their debut album proper, they seamlessly mix bucolic, retro reveries, devastating blasts of precision controlled riffing, sweeping folk, fleet-fingered mandolin work and a musical vocabulary that's as fluently conversant with world music as it is the time signature twists of Soft Machine. That these influences are successfully integrated into their songs rather than merely grafted on as stylistic affections says a lot about the band's desire to hone their craft. And hone it they very much have on debut album "On An On".


The combination of deftly playing guitars and soaring violin melodies combine to form something which is going to pull you in and make you want to hear more. What's most striking here is that the band haven't crafted a single type of sound, instead roving between moments which verge on rock, moments which verge on pop and moments which adopt an almost jazz style beat to things, it's a cleverly crafted mix of sounds which quite simply, works. "Edge Of The Earth" is further testament to this, opening soft once again and demonstrating that there’s more to this band than meets the eye. Once again soft yet incorporating different elements into the mix, there;s a serious dose of differentiated genres going on, the whole mix forming something which is sublime, relaxed and yet somehow, urgent and deep.

"Night Shaped Light" is another serious high on the album, and a moment which stands out as one of my personal favourites. Opening with a funky approach before adding in the violin to keep the sense of calm melody running through things, there's a real sense of calm reflection combined with orchestral depth running through the track, it's a mix which is impossible to describe in words but rest assured it's quite simply phenomenal...To really understand the ideas of this band though you only need listen to "Black Wave", a track which demonstrates just how able a unit this band really is. Acoustic yet incredibly powerful and deep throughout, this is another moment on the album which demonstrates exactly why you need to check these guys out. I've heard this album I can’t imagine a world where I hadn't heard it. This is an album which is uplifting, powerful and melodic, yet makes you question what's going on at every turn, thus turning it into something which really pushes the boundaries of music in general terms.

From The Pigeon Note:

Perhaps there is not a deliberate attempt to directly ressurect the 'Canterbury Scene; of the late 60s early 70s, but in the same improvisational vein, Syd Arthur bend and blend genres, creating a modern and vintage sound alike.

On An On contains the treasures of a subconcious time travel through a much broader musical history. From the jazz gems of one of the pioneers of British prog-rock, Soft Machine, to the alt-rock(s) of Radiohead through to the riches of the present day folk revival.

Vocalist Liam Magill's fuzzy drones are at times unintelligible, but it somehow doesn't matter. His voice often acts as a fifth instrument, his Thom Yorke-esque groans in "Edge Of The Earth", like a wave, pull the song forward. The other instruments bounce above doing their best to stay afloat lest they fall into the gloomy depths. Downbeat jazz infused Dorothy sees Magill's vocals lighten with a laid-back delivery.

Influences are abounding in "On An On", yet none are overpowering. In an extemporaneous manner Syd Arthur have managed to intricately weave these sounds to create their own. One which is mesmerising.

From Northern Sky:

Inventive and funky debut from Kent-based four-piece Syd Arthur, whose easily detectable precedent must be that of their Canterbury-based forerunners of the late 1960s. It's almost as if Prog Rock has returned but with much less pretentious baggage. Musically, Syd Arthur explore World rhythms but remain pretty much grounded in experimental mode throughout, exploring musical textures rather than specifically seeking a multi-cultural starting point. A good place would to start would be Edge of the Earth, which has all the experimental credentials of Lark's Tongue-period King Crimson but basks in a contemporary feel.

The changing rhythmic patterns of the lengthy closer "Paradise Lost" even manages to evoke the complexities of Yes-like arrangements, whilst material such as "Dorothy" offers moments of dreamy reverie. Self-produced by the band...ON AN ON brings the innovation of early Canterbury Scene bands back to that city and may just as well be rolled out to the rest of us now. What better time?

From Trebuchet Magazine:

"On an On" displays a great deal of musical self-indulgence, from an almost-obnoxious dexterity with guitar, violin, bass and drums; a vocal approach which takes a fairly standard, fine-grit gravelly rock voice, but wraps it around a very baroque style of lyrics which owe more to a grailquest role-playing game than to the usual staples of love, lust, loss and liquor that populate the rock/pop mileu.

Which again, would usually be the signal for critics to sharpen their metaphorical knives and shred the album to a fine tartare of shattered pretensions and a slew of 'only doing it for the fans' Facebook updates. Except that in this case, "On and On" is a damned fine album...

Dungeons and dragons, certainly, but endearing with it. That, the backward-tracking that sees the album out, and the gong-crash on the intro to 'Black Wave' typify the relaxed folk-hippydom of Syd Arthur on an album which is just on the right side of overambitious, but that is anchored by a) solid musicianship, b) charismatic vocals and c), a gut-felt ability to maintain swing/soul/groove/feel despite busy arrangements and unconventional song structures. On and On doesn't strive to be avant-garde or exclusionary, but it is clever, confident and artistic. And very good.

From This Year in Rock:

It's a sign of a good band when they can't possibly be described in one sentence. And, believe me, this is good.

In fact, trying to force Syd Arthur into an insufferable pit of classification is a reasonably challenging and fun game to play. Though I wouldn't bother if I were you, because this, I guarantee, is near-unbeatable:

An organic, rootsy Tame Impala hitch a ride with The Meters to go see White Denim play in a field in the countryside, where Caravan are discussing their favourite Phish shows and "Tomorrow Never Knows" is playing in the background.

But there's one very bright influence, glistening through the rest like a volcanic sun: Canterbury Prog.

..."On An On" is a modern album. It's deliciously retro, indeed, but its feet are planted firmly in the present in the way that, say, Sleepy Sun are. The sweeping string arrangements, the fuzzed-out guitar, the woody mandolin, the time signatures changing without warning. It's as close to perfect as modern progressive music can get. To add anything would be to detract from what is such a mature vision beyond their youthful years.

..."Dorothy" is a dreamy, jazz-fueled haze; a recollection of sleepy, 2am moonlights and breathy sunrises. Eye-popping instrumental "Night Shaped Light" is three and a half minutes of psychedelic bliss. "Ode To The Summer" possesses a monster Funkadelic-like verse riff that makes dancing in 9/8 possible. Vocalist/guitarist Liam Magill has a soothing, effortless voice, comforting like Nick Drake, but restrained like Brendan Benson in a way that lets the band take the praise together...It's not Robert Plant fronting Syd Arthur, but it works in much the same way that Tame Impala does; using the voice as a texture.

It also doesn't hurt that they’re all stupidly accomplished musicians. Even the weakest track glued together by guitar chops more tasteful than a Mars Bar.

In terms of the UK, there's enough here to satisfy both the Glastonbury crowd (that is, the mainstream magazines and indie festival-goers) and also appeal to the passionate, anti-cool prog fans who would otherwise be turned off by what is, ultimately, pop music.

But it's thinking man's pop music. Warped pop music. It's technical, it's savvy, it's adventurous. And that's why it's so good.

It's gorgeous.

Grab your sativa, "On An On" is mindblowing.

From Shout4Music:

Syd Arthur isn't a man but a band, a quartet from Canterbury with a penchant for 60s and 70s psychedelia and prog, as represented by the likes of Caravan, Soft Machine and Camel. While that might be an instant turn-off for some, Syd Arthur remind us on opening track "First Difference" that psychedelic progressive rock with whimsical folk flourishes and sweeping strings needn't be without groove, and they lock into a chilled-out head-nodding vibe from the get-go. It's accomplished and extremely well-crafted work... At times it does all become a little self-indulgent, but it's hard to fault the musicianship. There's also considerable vision and ambition behind these richly complex and textured compositions. This is nowhere more apparent than on the epic closer, "Paradise Lost". Clocking in at over 9 minutes, it's several songs woven into one flowing musical river. Nice.

From Rock Kent:

Inevitably, this record, and the band’s style as a whole will cause many to proffer comparisons with the founding fathers of their home town’s scene of old, all avant-garde jazz and bohemian ideals. And there is much to bear this comparison out.

The album opens with the complicated sub-Saharan rhythms of 'First Difference' ...while embracing rich violin motifs and continental jazz hooks.

Elsewhere "Night Shaped Light" is a glorious study in meandering musicality, an instrumental which grows and grows into something gleefully chaotic, while remaining meticulously controlled. Meanwhile, "Truth Seeker" rolls around with a mesmerising introduction and returning instrumental, all wrapped around raucous vocals and all out rock-and-roll.

Each song seems to bend the rules of time and space with what seem like epic, aeon spanning pieces of psychedelic noodling confining themselves to the duration of a standard radio-friendly pop song.

"On An On" is a magnificently evocative piece of psychedelic rock, paying tribute as much to the modern Kentish love of math rock rhythms and experimental sounds as it does to the Canterbury scene of old.

From Happening Magazine:

Suddenly we're awash with young turks who've discovered the, ahem, delights of prog at its most hallucinogenic. You'll probably be hearing quite a bit about Canterbury-based four piece Syd Arthur over the next few months because they're astonishingly self-assured and sound like an established long-haired '70s band hitting a mid-career high. Instead, this is their debut album, and it's eye-wateringly dynamic from start to finish...their instrumental often spookily reminiscent of their Canterbury fore-fathers Caravan

From Fatea:

I've been waiting a long time for a contemporary record which, as a whole package, possesses a superlight speed capability to induce something akin to time travel phenomena. Stick on this stunning debut from Syd Arthur and you will find it hard not to be whisked through the time vortex back to the late 1960s. Be prepared as they cruise you leisurely through to the mid 70s before freefalling back to the present via their mystical musical time machine. Just one listen and you'll be following wide eyed and pied piper-like. The superb fusion of psychedelic sounds draw you in and hook on tight taking you on a wild ride via this magical music bus from Canterbury. You will remain firmly strapped in until at least the end of the final track.

..."On An On" feels like an epic journey without it being a true story concept album that would perhaps require too much attention. Instead, each song awakens the inner explorer so you'll want to delve deeper into not only the lyrical underpinnings but also into the countless different styles the band manages to employ throughout. With just the two opening tracks they demonstrate the proficiency of their musicianship...

As great as the rest of the album is, "Paradise Lost" is the perfect way to finish. Epic is an understatement with so many reminders of some of the best of the classics not least at one point during the nine minute musical marathon, of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter". This is what a layered song should be like, with so many seemingly abrupt yet flawlessly timed changes in rhythm producing something that can be described as nothing short of exquisite. I'd urge any of the band's contemporaries to take lengthy notes should they wish to attempt anything similar...

This is true progressive psychedelica which while steeped in the folk-rock tradition, certainly isn't tied down to it. It moves effortlessly through genres without losing any firm sense of identity. Perhaps tamer than what may have been offered up by those back in the day but I'd say this is easily one of its strongest points as it refuses to let the history dictate what it should be, like it could so easily have done. This is an original work of magnificence able to stand alone to revel in its own splendour. While being accomplished enough to sound sure of what it is, it nevertheless remains blissfully experimental. Imaginative, creative and superbly produced by the band themselves. For a debut this is a true winner.

From Vulture Hound:

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" 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...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.

From Grumpyrocker:

Syd Arthur have created a wonderfully crafted album, that belies their tender ages and builds on everything that "Ode to the Summer" promised. The psychedelca music that Syd Arthur have marked as the cornerstone of their operation is here, as are those 60s and 70s influences. However, by carefully blending in music that sounds relevant now, Syd Arthur have produced an album, not stuck in a timewarp, but relevant to today.

...Increasingly Syd Arthur have concentrated on creating depth to their music, Edge of Earth takes backing vocals and the soft sweeps of strings to provide that lushness to the music, with a huge debt of gratitude to Raven Bush's composition skills.

..."Paradise Lost" is the final track on On and On and is a heady mix of sounds that demonstrates Syd Arthur know how to find the fusion point between rock, folk and psychedelia in a referenced jam session of a tune. It is the type of track that you could imagine a middle section extended out ad infinitum as the guitar wails, affected vocals intermittently silence the wails, whilst the drum keeps a steady rhythm. The track swirls away into the ebbing and flowing of effects which becomes hypnotic, before the musical fog is pierced by a picked guitar and Liam's vocals that echo in and out of the mists. This simply leads into a frenetic section, before the "Paradise Lost" ends in a reversal of music. Could this be akin to taking Interstellar Overdrive, dousing it in folk and adding lyrics?

Syd Arthur's "Ode to the Summer" is not a reference to the damp miserable summer endured by the British, instead it, along with the other tracks that make up On and On, are an exciting reminder of how music can be freshly crafted from influences that this quartet were born decades apart from.

From Music From The Other Side of the Room:

...this band really have got something up their sleeves and their debut album, "On an On" released this year, proves that not only they are going to hit the prog scene, but have a sound and vision in their mark of the Indie Rock scene of the 21st century.

...The sound of guitar, violin, drums, and bass coming together as one, is like something that you've never expected to hear from a quartet. Sometimes its indie mixed into some psychedelic Canterbury material along with a touch of the jazz sounds of the late 60s that could have easily been recorded as an animated soundtrack.

...The closer which clocks in at eight minutes and twenty-two seconds, "Paradise Lost"...allows you to step out the doors and into the solar system. Filled with more of the gothic and haunting sinister sounds of the band coming together as one and take point for what is going on throughout the track mixed in with some Yes and Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Inner Mounting Flame"-era that makes it a perfect finale to close the album off.

I have listened to "On an On" about seven times already and to be honest, I am blown away from what I've heard and this is one of the most upcoming bands that are soon going to take notice one day. On an On is not just a progressive rock album, but more of a spiritual journey that is done by a four piece who know the score very well.

From Guitar Techniques magazine:

This young band is so Canterbury they're practically the Archbishop. This is very much the Soft Machine/Caravan 1969 sound, lightly modernised.

Produced by the band and recorded at their own Wicker Studios, this is the work of four bright, judicious men who really know where they are going. The psychedelic pastoral ambience never precludes sharp experimentation. These soundscapes will slide around in your head, with disarming off-kilter ferltility.

Acoustic elements are crucial to the texture...Indeed, a relaxed, airy, summery vibe dominates much of the time. It's mostly in the longer tracks that there is more intense instrumental interplay, textural exploration and Floydian production frills for the less-mellowed to get their teeth into...'s great to hear such music sounding so youthful, so freshly intelligent...


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