Psych rock is a term that has been tossed around loosely in the new millennium, often applied to an otherwise straightforward act who punctuate their songs with the occasional vintage synth or a well-placed tape echo. Similarly, as a style, prog rock usually tends to refer to bands boasting a higher concept or an aesthetic of high-minded, improvisational musicianship. Canterbury quartet Syd Arthur comes by both of these labels honestly and academically, taking the most positive attributes from both while keeping a strong focus on quality songcraft. Much has already been made of their strong ties to the classic Canterbury Scene of the late '60s and early '70s, and even though the label has been wildly rebranded, their signing with a reborn Harvest Records had people clambering to cast them as the Soft Machine's second coming. Their 2012 debut, On and On, did present a young band with strong jazz, rock, and funk chops who had a taste for classic psychedelia, but there is more to them than their (and our) reverence for the past. Their 2014 sophomore album Sound Mirror is a logical extension of the styles put forth on their first release, both of which were produced and recorded by the band at their own Wicker Studios in London. Their mix of technical prowess and pop sensibility is put immediately on display with "Garden of Time," which skitters along neatly in its unconventional time signature, yet remains surprisingly accessible. A more noticeable shift toward something new occurs with the lead single "Hometown Blues," an enchanting, piano-led rocker with a sort of early-Waterboys mystique and a wonderfully snaky melody. Another foray into more pop-minded territory is the excellent "Autograph," which trips back and forth from tight, percolating punchiness to lovely, spaced-out bliss in just of three-and-a-half minutes. And this brevity is what is unique about how Syd Arthur approach their game. They offer the feeling of prog and psych rock in digestible, single-serving sizes. Only one track on Sound Mirror exceeds four minutes ("Garden of Time"). Even their most free-form freakout, the instrumental "Singularity," only lets its hair down for a few minutes before shifting into the dramatic (and brief) closer "Sink Hole." If indeed they are carrying the torch for the classic Canterbury sound, they're doing it smartly and on their own unique terms, with another impressive stop on their road of discovery.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger