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Synthpop Album Review: "Sphere" by Elektrographik

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

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Overall Impressions

Elektrographik’s (Claire Makepeace and Paul Weston) Sphere combines gleaming ‘80s and ‘90s dance and synthpop with a well-chosen synth palette, Claire Makepeace’s outstanding and wide-ranging vocal abilities and lyrics that move from poppy fun to thoughtful poetry. When one adds in the strong melodies that they craft to the mix, the end result is a superb synth-based album.

For me, the central pillar of Sphere is Claire Makepeace’s voice. It is a fine-tuned instrument that can deliver bright energy as well as aching emotion and technically excellent control. She explores a richly varied stylistic range and can imbue her voice with expression and dynamism in equal measure. As a result, she can bring the lyrics of each song to life fully and deeply.

I enjoy the mixture of pure dance pop lyrics with sophisticated, nuanced songwriting that exists on Sphere. Paul Weston and Claire Makepeace find a balance between uplifting explorations of positive emotion and complex journeys through the tapestry of human feelings is just about right on the album. This balance gives listeners a chance to relax and have some fun in between engaging their minds.

The synth palette on the album is ear-catching and complex. The synths are woven into a tapestry that ranges from resonant strings to digital sounds and explores emotions of pain, joy and desire through its sonic richness. I enjoy how the different tones and timbres engage and interact with one another to add layers to the music.

I’m also enamoured of the melodic writing on Sphere. There are propulsive, arching melodies that burst with light and tremulous, pained moments that fill my heart with aching feeling. The vocal melodies are also well-done and capture the emotion created in the lyrics. As a whole, I find the melodies irresistible.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“Lost in Love”

“Lost in Love” commences as a synth glistens with high chiming light, the solid bass throb hits the song and Claire Makepeace’s strong, expression-filled voice calls out over the floor-filling beat. There’s a fun ‘90s club music vibe in this song that contrasts with the deeply felt, passionate vocals. The beat is clean and hard-hitting as a shimmering, minor key synth line falls down through the song.

The beat doesn’t stop throbbing as Claire Makepeace’s voice cuts in again carrying a shadowed vocal melody. High synths gleam while the bass and drums propel the music forward. The song contrasts the minor key melody with shinier synth sounds and the beat drives on, the active bass shaping the music. Claire Makepeace’s vocals act to emphasize the dance club spirit, heaving with passion and need.

The repetition of “I’m lost in love” is like a mantra or a chant while the narrator talks about how her love is insane and asks “isn’t it plain” that she’s lost in love. She asks the object of her affection to look around tell her what they see. It’s all about “taking a ride, into me” for the narrator.

“Ascent”

Smooth, cosmically flowing synth is broke by pizzicato violins and deeper strings as Claire Makepeace’s emotive, floating vocals carry an aching melody to open “Ascent.” The drums have a gliding pulse and sunlit, rising synth chords suffuse the song with warmth.

Claire Makepeace imbues the lyrics with feeling as a hollow, trickling line of synth echoes out. I enjoy how she digs deep to unleash her vocal power as the beat keeps a heartbeat and easy synth floats through the song. Slightly tragic feeling, minor chords contrast with a softly caressing synth passage.

The sonic space is open and airy and the intensely full vocals tremble and hurt while an upwelling of round chords lifts Claire Makepeace’s voice. A gentle, pained glow pours from the synths to infuse the space with light. There’s a heart-aching feeling from all the musical elements and then silence falls.

This song explores the depths and heights of human feeling, a kaleidoscope of emotion pouring from it. The narrator talks about how her dreams “don’t tow the line” and that she has a “wish that cannot lie” and hope that won’t die. She talks about how there are feelings that lift one to a “higher fate that I cannot define.”

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Our narrator points out that she would travel a thousand miles to see the face of the other person and “feel your smile” because they’ve “made the harmonies like Zephyr*” that take “the soul in me.” She wonders if an unnamed sort of shadow will disappear and show her “the truth of what we fear.” I am intrigued as she talks about “the simulation” taking a toll and following her to a hiding place. Our narrator wants to put “the chance of fate” aside but even though she needs time, it’s already too late.

I am drawn to the contradictory nature of the idea that as the “flames go out” they burn the narrator. The concept of the “freer child” being taken “from violence” in a world we “take for reality” harks back to the idea of the world being a simulation. There’s a sense of resolve in the narrator’s vow to “wait a thousand years to find the fear that took your mind.”

At the end of it all, the narrator accepts the fact that she’ll “shiver in the breath of malady and what survives.” She queries if the shadows will reappear and adds that those shadows "mirror the vision of our fear.” Once again, she reminds herself to set aside “the chance of fate” and that she must “hold the line” except it’s too late for that.

Now the image of the flames leaping up to “burn my side” appears. In contrast the “freedom that we’d find” is like falling water. The narrator talks about moving slowly “all the time and breathing the air” she is about to say more about it but it’s broken by an inchoate cry. There is a sense of some sort of triumph as our narrator says that “no test of time” can take away the angel (seraph) that she’s found. In the end it stills her mind and she bears “the colours that you shine.”

“Hit the Runway”

“Hit the Runway” kicks off as a skittering, minor key melodic line is joined by bursting, throbbing drums and bass. Full chimes sing out along with a jazzy keyboard line before a descending, devious synth falls through the music. Claire Makepeace adds a classic ‘90s style spoken word part over the dynamic, shining synths and the deep throbbing drums and bass.

A tense arpeggio twirls in and the metallic-sounding keyboard repeats an addictive melodic pattern. After a drum fill, the descending synth melody adds another ear-catching element as it tumbles downwards and the whole track jumps and charges. Claire Makepeace’s voice is soulful and compelling for me over the pulsating, floor filling beat while the keyboard erupts with energy.

This song conjures up models striding down the runway as the narrator talks about how the person she’s talking to takes her breath away and adds “I feel you inside. “ It’s a “delight” as she tells the other person to “take that down the runway.”

The lyrics burst with energy as the narrator says “They’ve got it, you’ve got it” and tells the models to dance, move and “feel it, tame it, work that line.” Our narrator encourages people to “take that picture boy, step inside girl!”

As the song continues she addresses the song’s subject and says “I know you’ve got the brawn I’ve seen you fight. Stand up in pride!”

“Darker Skies”

An intense burst of noise drifts into open space and intertwining, sweeping synths swell and glide reverently as “Darker Skies” opens. A delicate, lush string-like synth line touches the music along with a choir of gossamer vocal sounds and Claire Makepeace’s voice. The oscillating, shadowy bass has a throbbing weight that supports the other musical elements. I enjoy how the vocals are full of emotive expression and capture the sensations in the lyrics well.

A medium-low, trumpeting synth carries a mysterious melody that’s full of melancholy and leavened by more positive moments. The vocal melody dreams and hurts, as Claire Makepeace’s voice echoes and distorts, intriguing and full of feeling. The song’s heartbeat supports a shifting synth pulse and the glittering, warming lead melody is carried on a flashing, medium-high synth. There’s a sense of distant tension and unreality in the music while the vocal melody adds more to the feeling of loss.

As the song begins, our narrator talks about the darker skies that come out at night. The imagery is breathtaking in a line that says “moonlight serenades the breathlessness of the northern lights.” Our narrator warns the other person that holding things down “won’t save the hope you had in mind” and that as they keep talking too much, they are wasting “precious time.” She wonders how she manages to “see the signs.”

At her “darkest hour” the narrator creates an image of taking up “all the fallen pieces in my atmosphere.” She adds that we overthink when we sleep, but that we need to take things back and “show the world whatever’s at your feet!” The lyrics remind us that it’s a dream and we should “feel the impulse” and allow that impulse to control us as we “dance tonight.”

“Freedom”

“Freedom” starts off with a jumping, twisting synth that wriggles over the solid bass thud below it. The vocals echo out into the music with a soulful feeling as a digital-sounding keyboard synth rises in a dynamic tide over the expressive vocal melody. The keyboard carries a brightly driving melodic pattern as the drumbeat and bass combine to add to the forward motion.

Claire Makepeace’s voice has a gorgeous richness and her great range adds to the expression in the lyrics. The vocal melody radiates a sense of progress as it moves over the steady drums and bass and the repeating keyboard line imbues the music with even more energy.

Nasal, medium-high synth carries a wandering, bouncing melodic line over the steady throb below it. A round and slightly metallic keyboard synth accompanies the vocal melody before the bass and drums hit again. The song ends on propulsive energy and the emotive vocals and a shining, twisting and cascading synth solo winds through along with the singing.

This is a song of defiance and hope. The narrator talks about how she fell apart one day and had to take a step away from the song’s subject because “it can’t do me no good to hear your narrow-minded convictions.” She refuses to hide and adds that “my field of vision is much grander” and she won’t let it be pushed aside. Our narrator is “finding out my new direction.”

The chorus is a call for people to choose freedom in their relationships in my view. It also expresses the idea of a shared connection as our narrator says that “it’s my house” but also adds “you know it’s your house.”

Our narrator says that the city’s brightness will help her find her way and “apprehend” the other person. I am intrigued by the possibility of the double meaning of apprehend as both “to capture” and also “to understand” in the context of this song. She goes on to say that she’s seeing signs that for the other person “it’s all about the exhibition.”

Now she’s on her own side and “taking me into consideration.” An interesting contrast occurs when our narrator asks if the other person can be her guide because she wants to “release my inhibitions.” I take this to mean that they’ve inadvertently helped her to see how to move forward.

At the end of the song, she repeats the lines, “My field of vision is much grander. You can’t push me aside!”

Delicate, tragic piano repeats a lost-feeling melodic pattern and Claire Makepeace’s echoing, whispered voice moves in to open “Harlequin’s Lament.” She sings in a classically inflected, theatrical style while dark piano notes drop below a celeste that flickers and shimmers with far-off light.

A digital-sounding synth pulse floats and fades in an undulating pattern while the mystical sounding chimes sparkle. Massive, open-sounding drums thunder into the music and Claire Makepeace’s vocals are dramatic and expressive. The whole song conceals hidden shadow and tension. I enjoy the style and the feeling of lurking danger that hides in this song.

There’s pain, tension and pervasive worry in this song’s lyrics. Our narrator whispers for the other to stay quiet and still. She talks about how the other person has told her “all the tales of once upon a time.” As the other person tries to watch her, she says that “I stay still just like I’m stone” and adds that “the cold won’t pinch too hard.”

I am drawn to the strong imagery of something decaying inside of our narrator, a “fragment of me that turns brown like timeworn paper.” However the story doesn’t change for her and as she cries, she comments that the other’s “eternal vanity” is hers. As if to remind herself, she repeats that “it’s a delusion, my delusion.”

In contrast she demands that the other person mesmerize her. She realizes that the person she’s addressing is sitting the the shadows “with an agency to conjure up a tale for you to enchant me.”

“Sphere”

“Sphere” comes into being as hollow, twisting synth carries a repeating, angular melodic pattern that has a vague sense of danger about it as the drums and bass interlock into a charging pulse. Claire Makepeace’s voice carries a wandering, wavering vocal melody over the continual angular pattern of notes under it.

Brighter, warmer notes flicker in whirling arpeggios underneath the passionate, deep feeling that fills the vocals. A bubbling, rippling note pattern is carried on hollow, medium-low synth as the beat throbs and pulses.

Quick flashes of elevated synth dance through the music and the drums and bass push everything onward. Glittering synths wriggle along and above them the vocals are full of dreaming need. The beat propels the song and big, wide, glowing arpeggios spin out as the song moves to a conclusion.

This song surges with passion and drama. Our narrator says that she’s on the run tonight and that it’s “our time tonight.” She tells the song’s subject that they say it’s a game but she wants them, adding “I say we take control again.”

The narrator tells the other that she wants to see them dance and move “in my sphere” as they “let the music take control” and “move our soul.” She makes it quite clear that there’s “no fear in my sphere.”

Our narrator says that the other person’s “heartbeat signals you need me.” She encourages them to “move in the spotlight” and be whatever they want to be. She adds that she can feel the rhythm of the energy and that the “music makes you fly, it’s all in synergy.” She asks if the other person can feel the rhythm and adds that “it’s on my mind” but is confident that the other person will “see me satisfied.”

Our narrator asks the other person to see what she gave to them and therefore what they have of her. She points out that they shouldn’t hate love because “you know it comes for free” and asks them to “stay with me one more night, everlong.”

The narrator talks about how the other person’s body “moves, pulses, in time with me.” She says that its synergy and adds “Oh dance with me in my sphere.”

“Moonlight”

A fragile, gentle and distant piano moves in a clean, dry audio space to start “Moonlight.” The vocals are tragic and caressing, tinged with mournful feeling. The vocals move in a more open audio environment as a delicate, reverent synth glows softly in the distance along with deep piano notes and a trembling string section.

Claire Makepeace shows off her vocal control and range, imbuing her voice with intense feeling and power, while still letting it tremble and ache. The strings and piano rise, adding layers of increased agony and loss. The violin’s voice shakes and cries in the distance while the vocal melody is pure and pained as the song drifts to a conclusion.

Pure love runs through this song’s lyrics as our narrator tells the other person that she has their back and will take them home. I enjoy the image of seeing the other person’s smile “like moonlight.” She adds that their smile also “brightens my moonlight” and her “true light.”

Now the narrator says she sees the other person and “it is the light, you shine bright.” She asks if “this pain” can take her away. The narrator talks about reaching for the stars as she adds that she hopes the other person recovers. As she sees their smile, she says that “like moonlight, I sing my light.” As the song ends, she says simply that “it’s twilight. I try.”

Conclusion

Elektrografik have woven together well-done musical elements into a compelling whole on Sphere. They pay homage all of the great retro synth sounds while adding layers of depth and nuance to them with first-rate performances and well crafted songs.

© 2022 Karl Magi

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