4 out of 5 stars
Syd Arthur, a youthful quartet from Canterbury on the southeastern peninsula of England, has a long lineage of psychedelic progressive rock to live up to: groups like Camel and The Soft Machine, who helped define those genres as they cross-pollinated in the early 1970s, also originated in that area. Syd Arthur have plenty of direct competition from contemporaries like Tame Impala, and artists from country standout Sturgill Simpson to indie-folk crooner Ray LaMontagne are reexamining classic psych, but the group stand strong on their sophomore LP, Sound Mirror.
“Psychedelia” has a wide array of definitions, from surreal pastoral folk to kaleidoscopic pop doused in electronic effects to heavy rock that shimmers like a foreboding mirage. Syd Arthur leans toward the two former, with a funky jazz inflection reminiscent of The Mahavishnu Orchestra as an array of electronic and acoustic elements dance in complex, compound-meter orbits.
The first wave of prog rock crested and receded because standard-bearing groups like Pink Floyd began making their records too dense and convoluted; despite its landmark technical achievements, The Wall sags under its own weight. Syd Arthur give themselves room to stretch out on Sound Mirror, with sonic textures thick and varied enough to enjoy getting lost in on repeat listens. At the same time, singer Liam MaGill’s distinctive Marc Bolan-esque lilt navigates whistle-worthy hooks, and the group’s pocket symphonies rarely overstep the three-and-a-half minute mark.