Synkro

Changes
Apollo

Back in the heyday of dubstep, when everything at 140bpm had a mandatory reggae vocal sample and enough low-end wobble to rattle the fittings in your sitting room, Synkro stood out with a more melodic twist on the genre, blending rhythms with warm harmony and dense texture. This willingness to offer something different to a rapidly stagnating musical movement made certain that, while much of my former dubstep collection has been left to gather dust in the far flung corners of my music folder, Synkro - and his regular collaborator, Indigo - are still on my musical radar.

After nearly 40 releases on a variety of imprints, Apollo Recordings now bring us Synkro’s debut album, Changes. The title of the record seems to imply a turning point and a departure from previous music, but, in a stylistic sense at least, this is certainly not the case. The textures on Changes are as rich as ever and the general tone of the record will be familiar to existing fans.

There is perhaps a little less rhythmic work than I expected, but the ambient pieces, especially the haunting ‘Empty Walls’, help to create a sense of journey, elevating the album from a selection of disparate tunes to something which exceeds the sum of its parts and holds water as a prolonged listen. When the beats are around, such as on the title track, they are well poised and give the music much-needed drive.

There is often a danger that seasoned, single-releasing artists struggle to produce fully fledged albums, instead creating extended releases which lack coherence. Synkro doesn’t fall into this trap, providing variety without losing continuity. Just as my ears were tiring of vast ambience and minimal drums, out pops ‘Midnight Sun’, a classy, melodic piece with a strong lead organ line and hip hop beat. Perhaps the only thing missing from this debut record is a bit more edge at times, but Changes remains a strong release from a great producer.

Fred Oxby

Chalk

The Pretty Cool EP
Self Released

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have seen stickers advertising Chalk’s debut album on bus stops and lampposts around Manchester. Although he might not have shifted as many units as the trite billboard artists he sabotaged, One For Being Me cemented his reputation as an MC who stands out for his towering wit. From his latest release, opening track ‘Pretty Cool… I Guess!’ takes a pop at the pitfalls of guerrilla advertising over a beat that would make the Blue Scholars proud: “I’m not underground, I’m on the ground / Meaning that I’m grounded / I’ve got a self-made album that most people haven’t found yet.”

A lot of modern hip hop has little variety in subject matter, but Chalk has no filter or tunnel vision. There’s a track about his love of thrift store records with scantily-clad Pan’s People adorning the covers (‘Hammond Pops’) and appearances from Aver, his sparring partner from The Natural Curriculum, whose love of the form is evident as they parry between verses on ‘Squadron Supreme’. ‘Throw Ya Books’ has enough hooks to get you extradited and ‘Cold Beer’ manages to out-funk George Benson with his own sample. ‘Spaced Out’ is reminiscent of a golden period in the 90s, peaking with Dr Octagon, where the freaky lineage of George Clinton was realised and not merely cannibalised.

The boom bap production is the work of true connoisseurs, with scratches and samples binding the beats together as Chalk lets loose with a unique imagination. Pretty cool would be an understatement.

Nathan McIlroy

Chewed Up / Casual Nausea

Split Album
TNS Records

After the overwhelming saturation of pop punk, gritty, spitting, in-your-face punk diminished and, for a while, never looked set to return, apart from in odd pubs and the smallest of venues, playing to only the most determined fans. With hardcore again on the rise – though not what it once was – and bands like Sleaford Mods pushing for industry recognition, there is now a place more than ever for the lippy, aggravated sound of cutting guitars and howling, painful vocals.

Chewed Up (Manchester) and Casual Nausea (Ipswich) are amongst a group of acts that are the hallmark of a definite revival of the old ways – a sound less polished, less diluted and less inconsequential. With album covers brandishing black and white doodled images, the DIY aesthetic they choose bleeds onto everything they create. These are bands that don’t just live and breathe their craft, but bleed it.

The Chewed Up segments of the album are a fast-paced, heavy set, blending between screaming vocals and more anthemic choruses. The crispness of the recording helps to push this balance further, perhaps more than anything live can. It’s better defined, but keeping to the same hereditary roughness and sharpness. Not that this is a particularly bitter band. Their ska roots shine through in their playing, making it heavy and light at the same time to create a well rounded sound, a lightness of touch colliding with raw heaviness and anger.

Wes Foster