Prog is dead. And it has been since the late 1970s, when the Sex Pistols plunged the final nail in the genre’s commercial coffin. Today, we’re left with offshoots and approximations: prog-metal (Mastodon, Opeth), alt-prog (Muse), cornball virtuosos (Dream Theater), even a few stubborn geezers (Yes, Steve Hackett) quietly resisting extinction. But even while popular indie bands like the Dirty Projectors flirt with vaguely prog tendencies, the genre’s mysterious spirit — the indefinable mojo that makes prog prog — has all but vanished entirely.
One thrilling exception: Canterbury newcomers Syd Arthur. The band’s second LP, Sound Mirror, is a sonic anachronism — blending jazz-fusion grooves, psychedelic guitar riffs, and pastoral orchestrations, its deftly assembled songs echo the eclecticism of the ’70s Canterbury prog movement (which spawned bands like Camel, Caravan, and the Soft Machine), conjuring images of sword-fighting knights and misty mountains.
In opener “Garden of Time,” frontman Liam Magill’s fidgety 6/8 guitar groove clashes with the distorted mandolin of Raven Bush (nephew of art-rock sorceress Kate Bush), building to a climactic squall of wah-wah and a dreamy orchestral coda. And the rest is equally transportive — from the brooding, violin-driven “Hometown Blues” to the kaleidoscopic, shape-shifting epic “Chariots.” In 2014, Syd Arthur couldn’t sound any less fashionable. And that’s exactly why they’re so important.