Sweet Billy Pilgrim: Crown and Treaty

So it goes for these charming UK art-rockers.

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If, as everyone seems to reckon, the devil is truly in the detail then it follows that Sweet Billy Pilgrim are a band possessed. The attention to that infernal quality is evident across the length and breadth of their third album. There’s not a single nook or cranny that isn’t brimming with artful arrangements, finely wrought filigree or inspired ornamentation. While there are plenty of bands who like to throw a bit of everything (including the kitchen sink) into their records, few can claim to have fashioned something as well-crafted as Crown And Treaty.

Much like Kurt Vonnegut’s character who becomes ‘unstuck in time’ in his novel Slaughterhouse-Five, and from whom the band take their name, their music presents a liminal space with unexpected and often remarkable entrances, which betray an interest and fluency in the different worlds of intelligent pop, folk, rock, electronica and progressive rock.

With so many musical flavours layered and folded into each of its nine songs it would be so easy to overdo everything, leaving listeners feeling bloated and dyspeptic. Yet the way in which all the ingredients have been lovingly blended is such that it not only leaves one filled with admiration at the way they’ve pulled off such a complex confection, but wondering if there’s any more to be had. Principal writer, Tim Elsenburg says the album addresses notions of history and the extent to which impressions and resonances are felt long after particular events have occurred; that what we recall isn’t necessarily the same as what actually happened.

The music often mirrors that transformational schemata wherein many of the songs start out as one thing, only to become something else entirely. Blakefield Gold moves from being something of a skipping acoustic ditty to emerging, butterfly-like, as a gorgeous chorale of dappled, sun-kissed harmonies. With the exception perhaps of Brugada, an episodic fusion that imagines Crosby Stills & Nash crashing into Yes, those wanting killer punches, big set-piece grandstanding solos and muscular salvos of brawny technique will, in all honesty, have to look elsewhere.

However, what might seem a weakness turns out to be its real strength. Making something this good look and sound so easy takes real effort. Underpinned with a heart-warming and ultimately optimistic philosophy which argues that ‘Life is a place we arrive at upside down’, this is a thoughtful, often introspective record. It never wears its considerable achievements, nor its classy inclinations, with anything other than an unassuming and utterly charming nonchalance. Miss this album at your peril.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.