Fans of the music of Joe McBride, aka Manchester’s Synkro, won’t have failed to notice the extraordinary stylistic shift that his work has seen over the last year. The dark DnB workouts of his past took a backseat for the release of the producer’s debut for Apollo Records, R&S’ ambient-inclined sister imprint. On the Broken Promise EP Synkro took the energy down a few notches, dwelling more on mood and emotion than kinetic power. The resulting tracks were interesting but didn’t quite stand out enough from the crowd. Now for good or ill Synkro has ventured even further down the rabbit hole on his longest release to date, the moody Acceptance mini-LP.
The move is, as it turns out, largely successful. A focus on lusher, more ambient constructions has allowed the producer to bring out the knack for atmosphere that could always be heard on his early productions, letting the haunting synthwork and angelic vocal snippets take centre stage on a piece that’s more about introspection than the dancefloor. The components that make up Acceptance are generally polished, pretty tracks that sound like a UK take on the LA beat sound, with the Californian funk influence replaced by the ghosts of garage and the bass music scene.
These thoughtful pieces are constructed using a fairly limited sonic palette, but it’s Synkro’s taste and execution that makes the music stand out. Drawn-out ambient washes are lain down like canvas, onto which McBride applies meditative synthwork and a host of impressive atmospherics, ranging from far-off percussive accents to spectral strains of human vocals that get lost in the mix. Despite these changes, echoes of the producer’s percussive past can still be found; gorgeous opener Acceptance trades in slo-mo beatscience and a ghostly, sensual array of vocal samples, while the later Illuminations uses clean snares and claps to bring a momentum to the boomerang bass and distended vocals. The most upbeat number of the collection is also one of its standout tracks in the form of Spirals, where a kinetic rhythm drives a pretty harp loop along some sharp vocal chops that reference the current UK dance scene more than any other tune on here.
Despite the occasional nods to his past, the majority of the strongest moments on Acceptance come from the most ambient songs. The deep To Be is an early highlight, showing the full range of Synkro’s new introspective, emotionally complex sound with subtly manipulated vocal samples and a distant percussive clatter. Yet there’s a negative side to all this ambience. The fact that many of these songs are cut from similar sonic cloth means that they can be hard to distinguish between, and some, such as the undeniably pretty Disappear, feel a little empty, without enough substance to really stand out. The inclusion of acoustic textures such as the guitar loops on this and Indigo collab Mutual Divide (which sounds a lot like a lost track from Tycho’s Dive) is a fluid inclusion, but it can’t raise the more unremarkable tracks on the release up from obscurity.
The tracks here are generally well produced and deeply atmospheric, but over a 35-minute runtime it’s hard to not wish for a little more variation and surprise in these sounds, and the listener might be frustrated waiting for Synkro to push the boat out a bit. Acceptance as a whole is meditative and filled with yearning, which will be great for those who love the sound and just want more of the same. But any listeners looking for a little experimentation and a wide range of emotional impact may prefer to look elsewhere in McBride’s discography for more adventurous material.