Synkro ‘Changes’ (Apollo)

Debut release from cult favourite Manchester bass producer

This may be Mancunian producer Joe McBride’s debut solo offering, but he’s no rookie. Having already chalked up an impressive array of 40-odd releases, McBride started life making dubstep and then honing his own individual sound, drawing on influences as diverse as dBridge and Boards Of Canada.

The ‘Changes’ project has its roots in a trip to Japan last year, when McBride got “addicted” to vintage synths, the Juno-6 and SH-101 he returned with having a dramatic effect on the development of the album’s flavour. The result is a 10 track delight that follows firmly in the horizontal, spaced-out tradition of its label, the ambient offshoot of the legendary R&S Records, while also bringing more than a little of the urban flavour of his musical background.
McBride is also someone who’s clearly grasped how to put together a coherent album, because ‘Changes’ starts slow and gradually takes shape, picking up in pace and atmosphere along the way. There’s almost nothing to its opener ‘Overture’ beyond radioactive analogue bubbling and luxurious synths, just building up the anticipation levels. The second track, ‘Shoreline’, introduces soulful vocals to the mix, and with the faintest of echoes of drum ’n’ bass and dubstep in the ultra-skeletal, hyper-processed drums, hints again at what’s to come.

Tinkling electric pianos lend ‘Your Heart’ a slightly more organic feel, as a plaintive vocal refrain echoes in the background, drenched in reverb to the point it’s almost ghost-like. The title track and ‘Let Me Go’ both see McBride introducing a clipped drum ’n’ bass groove – the influence of former Bad Company innovator dBridge probably at its most prominent here – and upping the energy by just a tiny notch each time. ‘Holding On’, with its gushing ambient cascades, brings The KLF’s milestone ‘Chill Out’ session to mind, only hitched to the pendulum swing of slow motion dubstep.

‘Body Close’ is the most traditionally arranged piece on the album, with a simple, almost jungle beat driving it along. It’s all about making space for the song itself, as guest singer Lyves delivers a stunning vocal, suggesting the heights of Massive Attack’s ‘Blue Lines’ or the majestically swooping voicebox theatrics of Kate Bush. It’s a definite highlight here. And it’s followed by the short and minimal ‘Empty Walls’, which is like a modern revisiting of Erik Satie’s spatial piano experiments, and then ‘Midnight Sun’ with its friendly warmth and blissfully stoned hip hop shuffle. Finally there’s ‘Harbour’, bringing things to a close with a nod to early electronic pioneers like Tangerine Dream and Vangelis.

McBride has often been praised for the technical wizardry of his sounds, especially in his recent work with fellow Mancunian Indigo under the Akkord banner. While ‘Changes’ offers absolutely no compromise on that front and will surely delight the “headz”, it also proves it is possible to squeeze tons of soul and emotion out of icy electronic ingredients. A unique and original concoction for sure.

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