SYNCATTO – Fiction (Album Review)

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For those new to Syncatto, it is the solo project of guitar wunderkind, Charlie RobbinsCharlie is a YouTube sensation and a guitarist in the equally compelling band, Artificial LanguageCharlie offers a fresh take on the concept of instrumental guitar music. His songwriting craft varies and, if music could be described in colors, would be a rainbow of bold sparks of creativity. Syncatto varies from the norm with its typical lack of traditional guitar shred. Instead, his style blends flamenco with slapping, sliding, sweeping, selective picking, you name it. Just an absolute breath of fresh air in the guitar instrumental space.

Just as astounding as the technique on display is the macro evolutional jump in songwriting abilities from Charlie. One only has to listen back to his impressive debut in 2015, “A Place to Hide” and chart the progress through to his latest release, “Fiction”. Along the way, there were other spikes such as the sublime release from 2021, “A Place to Breathe” (read my review here). If you have missed the Syncatto train to date, his newest release, “Fiction”, is the perfect opportunity to climb aboard. It contains all the usual bag of tricks that Charlie employs on the guitar along with some subtle mutations to the Syncatto sound.

The album kicks off with the title track, “Fiction” which is a great summation to date of the Syncatto brand. It leads off with some intricate flamenco playing on the nylon guitar followed by a starburst of Charlie-isms such as his signature manic slide phrasing and intricate melodic lines. Charlie stands out from other players due to his very non-linear approach to the instrument. By that I mean his playing is not typically filled with lightning-fast scalar runs ala John Petrucci. Instead, the approach is very chordal and tightly coupled to the imaginative rhythms underneath. It certainly earns the prog guitar mantle with the ever-shifting time signatures. One can never get too comfortable with the direction within a Syncatto song. They constantly shift and turn from section to section.

A perfect example of his growth as a rhythm player is illustrated on “Nightfall.” Again, he interlaces some slithering nylon guitar with some selective picking that is otherworldly. Creativity reaches eleven and we are just on the second track.

“Just Breathe” is an appropriate song title in that the music begins to open up and breathe a little more. It includes a hooky melodic line that is reminiscent of Plini and Intervals all rolled into the signature Syncatto flow.

“Prestige” continues the trend of less is more. More space within the lines. It even has a slightly jazzier feel baked into the track’s DNA. This is certainly a track to listen to on headphones. The music floats and swims in different directions commanding the listener’s full and undivided attention. It’s then capped off with some nice shred from the Arch Echo gang. A real highlight of the album.

“Afterglow” is another highlight and may be the most melodic of the bunch. Again, the growth from a rhythmic standpoint is immense and truly impressive.

“Fiction” Artwork

“Dethrone” follows a similar construct Charlie has used in the past by taking a prior melody (“Nostalgia” from the “Lost Inside” EP) and producing a variation on the theme. It’s almost like the melody in a different multiverse. For those tracking his evolution, just listen to both tracks back to back. He really expands on the “Nostalgia” theme by taking it in a different direction and adding complexity without burying the simple melody in overproduction.  

It should also be mentioned that Syncatto is not just ‘guitar music’. The music is rich with synths and other stringed instruments such as the violin which is prominently featured on the exquisite Black Velvet with the accompaniment provided by violinist Coen Strouken. The groove is strong with this one and is counterbalanced by the tradeoffs from nylon to violin to electric. Just an absolute aural treat for the listener with some heavy thumping driving the rhythm and accentuating the groove. 

“Sword” brings the thumping to the forefront and brings to mind the great Tosin Abasi who is the master of this technique. One could almost see this brief track on an Animals as Leaders record.

We swing back into Plini territory with the chill “Look to the Sky”. Plenty of space and room to breathe. As great as the more manic tracks that burst with ideas and melody are, it’s nice to just simplify at times.

“Midnight Mass” continues in this vein and features some nice piano accompaniment from the great Jordan Rudess. It can’t be overstated Charlie’s growth in the rhythm department. By far his strongest release to date. “Midnight Mass” closes out with some face-melting runs that, as is typical, seemingly defy the laws of physics.

The album closes with a collaboration with AJ Minette from The Human Abstract. It feels like a great summation of the album as a whole. Upbeat and refreshing. Though, the nice heavy doom riffing at the end just seals “Fiction” with a kiss.

There is an immense wasteland of guitar music available on the various streaming platforms that cover all sorts of heavy djenting and light-speed shredding. Syncatto stands out from the pack by focusing on the song and using the guitar to paint a vibrant, multicolor canvas with seemingly boundless creative strokes that come fast and furious on this latest release, “Fiction.”

Released By: Independent
Release Date: February 16th, 2023
Genre: Progressive Rock / Progressive Metal

Fiction track listing:

  1. Fiction
  2. Nightfall
  3. Just Breathe
  4. Prestige
  5. Afterglow
  6. Dethrone
  7. Black Velvet
  8. Sword
  9. Look To The Sky
  10. Midnight Mass
  11. Now Sink

Order the album HERE

9.0 Excellent

Syncatto returns with a fresh alternative to typical guitar shred. Bursting with color and creativity, "Fiction" shines a bright candle in the sea of guitar based music

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 9
  • Production 8.5

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