Finding time to crank out two releases in as many months around his increasingly heavy schedule MCing at the front of the Mouse Outfit (last month’s The Evidence EP with Mouse Outfit’s Pitch being the other such release), the UK hip-hop underground’s own everyman icon Dr Syntax is firing on all cylinders these days. Elaborate Anoraks is the good Doctor’s latest outing with long-time collaborator Pete Cannon, whose name is becoming ever more frequently linked with everything good going on in UK hip-hop across the country and whose beats are infused with a deep groove which almost begs your head to nod along to every track. There is an inescapable positive feel to the vast majority of this album, with Cannon’s good-time vibes combining with Syntax’s ineffable contentedness with his own place in the musical world. Lyrically, Doc Synners makes clear that he’s very accepting of his status as a somewhat uncool, arguably nerdy older member of the generally young and trendy family of the UK’s rap scene, happily admitting he prefers the more restrained things in life than many of his musical peers. This approach is summed up in ‘Wild! Crazy! Loco!’; an unapologetic, unambiguous and largely hilarious ode to being sensible. The recurring lyric ‘I’m just an average man’ says it all, and if this scene is indeed a family, Syntax seems more than happy to be the slightly awkward, very English, middle-aged dad. He even furthers this image by giving mild exposure to some fellow underground talents, letting them step up to the plate under his moniker as guests, without being overshadowed by them. It’s as though away from the Mouse Outfit, an act he ably fronts alongside a rolling cast of young Manchester MCs including Sparkz, Truthos Mufasa, Black Josh and Dubbul O, all of whom are clearly of a different generation to our Doctor, Dr Syntax can let out more of his own personality – which is exactly what solo releases should be all about. Furthermore, the subject matter Synners spits about spans a level of variety hinted at on the Benny Huge album back in 2010, which is refreshing compared to the sometimes one-dimensional self-praising displayed with the Mouse Outfit. Much of Elaborate Anoraks is actually laugh-out-loud funny, not least ‘You Must Be Cool’ which includes an impossible number of quotable, spot-on comments on the ridiculousness of modern hipsterdom. And yet for all the jokes and jibes and for all the obscure metaphors (‘bonkers like a 10 kilometre jogger wearing galoshes and boxers’, anyone?), Dr Syntax is no comedy act. He is skilled in his craft, and uses that craft to entertain in a genuine way, with humour just one of the endearing strings to his bow, keeping every track interesting without relying on technical ear candy. He even shows a previously underused skill in melodic singing at points, which carries over better than many rappers who attempt the same. Sadly, although ‘Girl I Want To’ carries some down to earth and witty verses, its auto-tuned chorus is so plainly stated and vulgar that it is really unclear whether or not this is part of the joke and strays into cringe territory, but this is the only truly questionable moment on this release. Cannon’s knack for combining old-school-styled sampling into modern, bass-heavy bangers really rounds out the LP as a full bodied and impressive piece of work. It is somewhat incongruous that ‘I F’d Up’, a song about apology and unfaithfulness, is one of the most upbeat tracks here, and that ‘Media Frenzy’, which lyrically deals with the evils of government and social media, displays one of the most chilled-out and spacey beats, but Pete’s recognisable underlying talent mostly smoothes these very minor cases of cognitive dissonance. With Dr Syntax’s status as the self-appointed standard-bearer for the reserved and uncool mixed in with Pete Cannon’s undeniable links to many tropes of the complete opposite, Elaborate Anoraks encourages ignorance of the whole concept of trends and simply offers you 41 minutes of completely unique hip-hop gold.
For fans of: Stig of the Dump, Verb T, The Mouse Outfit