Under Review


Tumblers From the Vault

RVNG INTL ; 14/10/2016

Tumblers from the Vault [Tumblers] is the reissued collected works of Toronto band Syrinx (1970-72), recently released by RVNG from the coffers of Canadian indie label True North Records.  

The name “Syrinx” is derived from a Greek myth in which the chaste eponymous nymph is transformed into a flute whilst fleeing from the amorous god Pan. It also denotes a rare neurological condition in which a fluid filled cavity develops in the spinal cord or brainstem. Thus, Syrinx, the band, simultaneously evokes a sense of the fantastic and the scientific, the ancient and the futuristic — practically speaking, a band with a sound that falls somewhere between the lush, earthy prog of fellow Canadians Harmonium, and the synthetic ambience of Tangerine Dream.

This largely instrumental group consisted of John Mills-Cockell on keyboards and synths, Douglas Pringle on saxophone, and Alan Wells on percussion with Malcolm Tomlinson adding occasional vocals. Despite the sparse line-up, Tumblers ranges the band’s ability from the minimal ponderous glow of “Father of Light” to full-blow intergalactic travel on “Tumblers to the Vault” and “Syren.”

Syrinx’s claim to fame is that bandleader Mills-Cockell’s was the first Canadian to purchase the prestigious Moog analog synthesizer. As the instrument was still in its nascence, Syrinx found themselves at a final frontier as self-styled minstrels, fanfare and all, as they composed orbital suites like “Stringspace” and “Chant for Your Dragon King,” at once both retro and high-tech in the same way that the Starship Enterprise still seems like a viable vessel for interstellar travel. Not unlike The Final Frontier, the tonal quality of the Moog can become cold and lonely on the latter half of Tumblers in dirges like “Field Hymn.” But Syrinx carefully grounds this emptiness back on Earth with Pringle’s saxophone harmony on “Hollywood Dream Trip.”  

Above all, Tumblers is a record of discovery. Syrinx explores the contours and novelties of the Moog refracted through ageless tones and melodies from around the world. One will hear European chromatics in “Better Deaf and Dumb from the First,” the hand drums of Indian ragas in “Melina’s Torch,” Middle Eastern maquams on “Ibstix,” and atonal Japanese gezas in “December Angel,” all igniting the sense that Syrinx gazed up at the same peculiar skies above Toronto that shine down across the globe and were guided by musical asterisms perennially burning but hitherto unfixed.

At the time Syrinx was active, progressive rock had sprung up all over the international charts guided by the Polar North of Canterbury, England. Syrinx never received quite the level of attention as their peers, sadly splitting up after having reached a creative crossroads in 1972. Thankfully, Tumblers from the Vault uncovers an underappreciated Canadian reception of prog by way of the Moog, which Syrinx boldly followed into vast new tonal galaxies that can now, thanks to this reissue, twinkle brightly on your very own record shelf.