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Synthpop Album Review: "Future Ruins" by Architrave

Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.

Cover Design: Paul Coleman

Cover Design: Paul Coleman

Initial Impressions

Architrave’s Future Ruins is a grown up, musically complex and lyrically rich slice of synthpop. It combines Jennifer Maher Coleman’s distinctive voice with a layered synth environment shot through with contrasting, mingling emotions to create atmospheric and evocative music.

I am strongly drawn to Future Ruins because of Jennifer Maher Coleman’s strong singing voice. It has a depth and power as well as a unique timbre that allows her to explore a variety of emotions as she sings. Her ability to emote suits the sometimes ambiguous and shifting emotional territory over which the lyrics of the songs range.

The lyrical content of the album is another compelling factor for my enjoyment of it. The songs are mature and well-constructed. I do like how they capture the shifting ground and nuance of the conflicted feelings and uncertain emotions that plague our lives. The songwriting gives equal room to examination and poetic expression which I appreciate.

The musical atmosphere of Future Ruins is richly woven and melancholy. There are synths that combine in a texturally interesting way to carry melodies that shift from brightness to darkness, often within the same song. I enjoy how well each synth layer interacts. I was also especially appreciative of the sax on “Loved and Lost" which had a painful, ancient sound that adds to that song’s depth.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“Blissed Out”

“Blissed Out” opens on growing, slightly rough-edged synths that add a gritty voice to the song. Dense electric bass notes drift along with Jennifer Maher Coleman’s assertive vocals. Drums break and bounce while the dark guitar’s weight moves. I enjoy how the swirling, misty synth clouds twine tendrils around Jennifer Maher Coleman’s distinctive voice as the beat drives on.

Shifting, dense guitar and thickly flowing bass combine while the drums pop and shake. The vocals are distorted at certain points, adding to their weight, as synth curls through the song . An elevated, oscillating, metallic synth slides through and the shadowy guitar adds extra support. The digitally altered vocals move over the pulsating beat before ending on synth flashes, deep bass and silence.

In a world of constant connection, sometimes we need to escape. The narrator opens by saying “this was a scene of a conversation far more serene.” She discusses how she “can’t stop scrolling, the news just keeps unrolling” but the things she reads “darken every hour” because she lets them overpower her. She pleads, “Take this screen away from me and take me by the hand.”

The chorus has our narrator addressing a person for whom she clearly cares. She says that they can make her believe, forget and feel adding that they’ll be alright just for one night. The narrator goes on to say that “this weighted shroud” that casts a shadow of fear on them “doesn’t go with our decor.” She talks about kicking it right off the bed “while we reach for something pure.’

In conclusion, she says that she wants to “miss out on what's new. I just want to be blissed out with you.”

“Crown Shyness”

Digital-sounding metallic synth whorls flow into open space along with solid, jagged edged-bass and a twisting synth to open “Crown Shyness.” The melody is carried on a warm, nasal synth as it creates positive feelings. I enjoy the richness of Jennifer Maher Coleman and Paul Coleman’s voices as they duet.

The nasal-sounding, hopeful synth melody calls out as glassy chimes shimmer discreetly in the background. The singer’s voices mingle as the open-voiced, bending lead synth carries the warm melody. Thick guitar, open-voiced synths and steady beat push on over the deep synth bass.

This song uses the metaphor of crown shy trees to talk about two people who are “out here throwing shade upon the ground that we call home” but they can’t manage to “put our heads enough together to not be alone.”

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The narrator creates a strong image in the phrase “parallel Pangean edges” that have gaps between them “for the spirit” as “blinding shafts of space” come through to “conjure green.” She adds that despite “our lofty highness” the two of them “retain a yours and mine-ness that denies us.”

“Louis Kahn”

“Louis Kahn” starts as flashing, delicate chimes sparkle out into open space as a resonant, beat rebounds. Guitar forms a smooth, undulating pulse as Jennifer Maher Coleman’s melancholy voice carries the mystical melody. Tense, elevated synth extends out to form a background to Jennifer Maher Coleman’s vocals. I enjoy the way she can imbue her voice with conflicting emotions.

The beat glides and snaps while the guitar moves in angular lines over the percussion. High background synth flows continuously to provide more tension as crystalline sparkles float over the interlocking beats and bass along with the wave of shifting guitar.

There’s an elegiac feeling to this song evoking architecture now abandoned and empty. It especially references the work of Louis Kahn. A sense of emptiness permeates lines like, “Grid of glass forever closed, pressing back the still air.” The song mentions “concrete, Louis Kahn” since it was a preferred medium for him. Abandonment and fading is well-conveyed in the lines, “Someone left the lights on. Hidden wires oxidized, untripped for so long.”

Louis Kahn was inspired by ancient ruins and now he has left “future ruins all around” and those future ruins are now. His buildings emphasize form over function to create a “beautiful prison.” They are “clean and majestic from afar” but as you get closer you can stroke their “iron bruises, timeless scars.”

The clean, sharp imagery in the song is especially evident in this segment of lyrics, “Monoliths against the blue, balanced on the patient ground. Curving down and through.” Once again the song reiterates, “Future ruins all around. Future ruins are now.”

“Loved and Lost”

There’s a liquid flowing feeling as “Loved and Lost” opens with bubbling synths and saxes that wind over the throbbing four on the floor house beat. Hollow, trickling synth washes through, forming a descending pattern that has a lightness to it. Jennifer Maher Coleman’s expressive voice drifts, transforming the lyrics’ sense into sound. There’s a sailing feeling as the throbbing beat propels the song below Jennifer Maher Coleman’s singing.

I am drawn to the way in which the gentle, open synth flows along in an easy-going line and the reedy saxophones move with the dreamy vocals. The insistent drum and bass heartbeat continues as wide, enfolding sounds extend. The nasal sounding sax calls out with the distant vocals echoing into the ethereal background. Sparkling chimes move with the hollow burble of synth before the song ends.

This song explores the aftermath of a broken relationship. The narrator has loved and lost. She doesn’t see the other person any more, but asks “What was the cost?” because the other person is still darkening her doorstep. There is bitterness as she says, “Too high a price to pay, to look me in the eye and say the words…”

The narrator feels the other person push into her “like you own the place.” They are estranged to her but she adds “I know your face.” I especially enjoy how she expresses how she feels as they tell her she’s still theirs by saying, “It’s like a foreign movie but I know the lines.”

Our narrator feels puzzled by the complexity of her current emotional state as the song ends. She asks what you call “that melancholy, the smiling eyes of a memory.”

“Humble and Good”

“Humble and Good” flows into being as flashes of wide, metallic synth slowly move above the the solid, slightly uneven drums. The beat steadies as the electric guitar carries a shadowed, deep melodic pattern. A secondary synth line, gentler and medium-high, repeats while Jennifer Maher Coleman’s emotive vocals add more strength to the music.

There’s a cello-like tone in the guitar and a bursting, rising line of brassy synth adds a more positive feeling. I enjoy the spacious feeling of this music as it glows and gathers into a falling melodic pattern while the drums glide. Jennifer Maher Coleman’s vocals flow in an expressive line before the bright melodic pattern dances through again.

Emotional disconnection, conformity and isolation are all themes this song explores. There’s a feeling of supplication to mute forces in the lines, “We line up with our hands out. No windows, just projections.” The feeling of being an unwilling participant in the numbing is clear as our narrator says that the drugs will take you under as she tries to “shield my skin from the injections.”

The disjunction and homogeneity are made clearer as the narrator talks about how the faces are reflections and everyone is “dressed the same.” She adds that there’s a feeling of being stifled as one asks “why so many answer to one name.” The repeated phrase “humble and good” seems to be a reminder the things expected to result from our conformity.

The narrator is so hungry to feel that she’ll “trade this void for anguish.” The kind of peace that the situation creates makes her “yearn for violence” if it means that there’s something else that exists “beyond this endless smiling silence.”

“Truth Serum”

Drums bounce into the music as a nasal, medium-low synth repeats an aching melodic pattern to kick off “Truth Serum.” The dense guitar tone ads shadings of darkness and the upwelling of dense bass supports the melodic pattern’s pained sound. I am enamoured of Jennifer Maher Coleman’s distinctive voice and the way the weighty guitar emphasizes the sense of revealed love. Twisting synth distortions add an unsettling high pitched squeak through the clouds of sound that pile up and flow with an insistent, angular synth pulse and into silence.

The narrator is told to “drink it down, I know it’s sour” as she takes the title’s truth serum. It will help her to “disclose your lies.” There’s reassurance as she is urged to “tell me all about it, free yourself and shout it.”

Now there’s deep regret as she begs for it to be taken back. She adds that she’s changed her mind because she could not have known what she’d find “if I told my truth, it’s just that I love you."

“Slice of Life”

“Slice of Life” commences with rough-edged bass forming an oscillating, droning flow as the medium high synths stack up and layer while elevated synths sparkle. The dark guitar adds more power and Jennifer Maher Coleman’s voice has a bleak feeling that I found powerful as it floats in an echoing line. Repeating guitar increases the sombre feeling underneath the high synth’s lighter shimmer.

The vocal distortion adds more unsettled sensations as the oscillating bass shifts under the whorls of higher sound. The emptiness in the vocals is enhanced by the desolation in the music as the layered synths rise in a glimmering mist. Mingled voices twine together in an uncomfortable pattern while the hypnotic guitar eventually fades with the other elements.

I detect a sinister undertone in this song that lurks below the lyrics. A contrasting brightness from “white lights in the mirror” and ominous red lights in the other person’s eyes open the song. The narrator points out that her “destination is clearer” while the other person’s will be surprising.

Our narrator talks about how she’ll take the other person deep as they go dark. She adds that “navigation is useless, we follow my heart.” She continues by saying that she sometimes feels she doesn’t know the other person but “I guess we’re gonna find out.” She questions what she owes the other person but emphasizes “that’s not what it’s about.”

There’s a dark undertone to the words here as she talks about the “solitary night” and the silhouetted trees. The song leaves me wondering just what sort of “slice of life” she’s talking about. Whatever it might be, it has left her “weak in the knees.”

“Take It Slow”

A skipping beat and distant synth twitches are joined by flickering bells to open “Take It Slow.” Paul Coleman’s voice echoes into the hazily moving, medium-high synth sounds that trickle and shiver. I am attracted to the way in which Jennifer Maher Coleman and Paul Coleman’s duet yearns with emotion as they duet.

Trembling synth vibrates and the vocals echo as a xylophone-like synth patters while the subtly propulsive beat glides and the duet of voices slides through. The sonic haze interlocks in a lost-feeling pattern and the dark guitar and bells fade away.

For me, this song is about a relationship that has fallen on hard times and may not be salvageable. The narrator starts by saying that she’s tried hard to overcome the harm she’s done. There’s one brief moment of hope as she tries to “turn towards the sun and begin the day” but the “night so dark and long” that represents the past relationship can’t be forgotten.

The narrator asks herself who she thinks she is and who the other person thinks they are. At this point though, she is forced to conclude "I mean, who fucking knows?” They’ve already “come this far” and now there’s not much more distance to travel. Since that’s the case, the conclusion is to “ be kind and take it slow” anyways.

Final Thoughts

The way in which Jennifer Maher Coleman’s voice combines with the nuanced and wide-ranging lyrical content and the atmospheric qualities of Future Ruins results in an album that took me on an emotional journey as it unfolds.

© 2021 Karl Magi

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