It's difficult, isn't it, being an unhappy young man with an acoustic guitar. Because what of Smith, what of Oberst, what of Jackson C Frank and Keaton Henson, and of Owen, of Drake, of Devine? What of their legacy, and what of your self-loathing? Can you shoulder that weight, the inevitable backlash if you break from the bedroom, but more likely the indifference when you don't?

My dramatics aren't entirely appropriate, because drama is not something that runs all that strongly through the songs of Steven Stride, the man behind Chalk. What I'm saying, though, is downbeat tunes made largely with a lone acoustic and voice (for this is what these are) can be kind of easy to knock, by virtue of both the illustrious lineage they spring from, and how little sonic scope they give themselves to work with.

Listening to Chalk's self-titled debut full-length, it's hard not to feel that Stride has to some extent pilloried himself in his chosen medium. The record's twelve sad songs owe a distinct debt to their forebears, and its bookends encapsulate this neatly. Elliott Smith, besides being chucked around like a worn-out tennis ball in all the RIYLs attendant to Chalk, is an obvious ancestor from the off, his breezy strum/beaten sentiment tag-team and unpredictable way with a chord progression feeding Chalk's opener 'No One's Listening', while Stride closes the record channeling Bright Eyes for 'Today is Not That Day', whose wheezy reed organ, self-aware lyricisms and occasional yelps stray as close to Fevers and Mirrors as is possible without committing the same sort of gross plagiarism as An Angle.

So no, Stride has not made things easy for himself, positioning Chalk (his debut, no less) so close to the kind of artists who elicit, and not always hyperbolically, accolades like 'life-changing' or 'genius'. But there are ways in which Stride bears his cross as Chalk that'll make you like him.

I said that 'dramatic' wasn't a qualifier that applied to the songs here, and it is not. There's a well-worn review trope that goes "X could sing a phone book/shopping list/dishwasher assembly guide and make it sound emotional," but Stride's beaten deadpan, a voice utterly incapable of hamming anything up, works in the exact opposite way here. Despite the fact that his songs are couched without exception in negativity (read the tracklist as a starting point, if you fancy arguing), Stride's unassuming delivery strips Chalk's tunes of any semblance of self-pity, meaning that he can husk out lines like "got all these things to say, but no one's listening," or "today I'm just happy in my misery," (on 'All These Things', Stride's most convincing appropriation of post-hardcore chord progressions for fingerpicked, lush folk) or "you were happy when all I wanted was to be sad" with absolute conviction.

Sentiment here is not delivered for some hoped-for emotional response, it's delivered because it's just what's going down. And that, in an attempted answer to the self-effacing question Stride poses on 'Today Is Not That Day', is one of the parts that makes Chalk art, instead of just a boy crying 'woe is me,' and it means that the album retains bags of genuine emotional clout where handled differently, we'd be reaching for the puke bag.

It also means that Chalk is a whole hella lot less easy to wallow in than might be expected. Which is healthy, sure, but means that we have to look elsewhere in the record for a hook from which to hang ourselves. It's not there in the production, either - Stride has chosen to record largely solo, and everything is crisp, clean, and unadorned by the static or scuffles that can add inestimable depth to a record this acoustically bare. Without any sort of heart-on-sleeve theatrics or studio trickery, Chalk can start to feel a little monotone at times - as good as songs like the streetlit 4 a.m. blues of 'Somebody's Home', or the swaying, whiskey-drunk 'Missing' are for all their nearly-sharpened hooks, they're not really given a chance to come out of themselves here.

Perhaps the consequence of a hangover from his more amped-up projects (Stride's also involved with abrasive post-punks Crooked Mountain, Crooked Sea, as well as irresistible Brightonian brainiacs Love Among the Mannequins), Chalk can ache for distortion - the popping harmonic interplay and eventual full-on riffage of 'Why Do We Have To Get Along', for example, or 'Oh Charlotte', whose chunky chords fall just short of full-on Weezery power-pop as presented here (the song's ending is a nice reminder that even the staunchest of misery-guts can have a laugh, though).

So it's where he fleshes out Chalk that Stride really gets results. Drums come in for the first (and nearly only) time on 'You Really Thought You Had a Chance at Getting Out of Here', turning what could have been just another downbeat acoustic number amid a recordsworth of downbeat acoustic numbers into something with all the slack swagger of Heatmiser or Either/Or, and when Stride strains at the line "...if there's no-one there to care," before falling away bruised into the gentle tide of click and strum, the effect is chilling. Similarly, 'In Your Suit's razor-sharp storm of strings cut twice as deep for the starkness of their surroundings, not to mention the song's shocking brevity.

When Chalk hits its...er...stride (sorry), it works. Oh, it works. The deathly, hushed picking of 'Stinted Verse', Stride whispering "you're brave and bold, but nothing on your own," as though to remind us that even at our best, we're still absolutely and irreversibly fucked, is a gut punch as swift and crippling as those of any name I've carelessly dropped over the last few hundred words. At the other end of the scale, 'Next To Useless' (by far one of the most self-assured things on here) channels all the desperation and energy of a full rock band into one furious blur of droning strum and cracked voice, somehow managing to avoid sounding lacking or clumsy. In some respects, it can feel like Chalk wasn't quite ready to come off the boil, but based on its highs (or rather, its low, low lows), what Steven Stride does next should be nothing short of heart-stopping.