Listening to Sferro’s latest album, Ornaments, isn’t like listening to other synthwave releases. Whereas many producers will stay in a particular subgenre or two, and will be the go-to guys and girls for when you’re feeling like OutRun or future synth or horror, there a fewer out there who are willing to experiment and deconstruct or pull from other retro influences. I believe this is purely a matter of choice for the most part; some want to master a particular sound while others just want to see what happens when different influences collide. With Ornaments, Sferro falls into the latter category. It’s challenging to describe the album within the vocabulary of the synthwave genre, so bear with me. The only thing I can promise is that there will be no Christmas puns.
I’ve said before that some producers create from a point of nostalgia. Their music is an homage to a memory. Others put themselves in the decade and say, “What did they have then? What were their creative tools?” In this sense, one artist is a historian (or historical storyteller) and the other is a recreationist (or time traveler). I think that Sferro sat down and gathered up the synths that were available at the time and used them to illustrate his inspiration, rather than trying to make a “retro” record.
If this was the case, then it explains why there are no “OutRun” or “Horror” tracks, indeed there aren’t any tracks that fit well under any category. Each song is deeply nuanced and changes from one mood to another, giving the listener the feeling that threads are being added to a multi-colored rope, as opposed to instruments being introduced as the track progresses.
It could be said that the first track, 'Devant', is OutRun but that would ignore the Kraftwerk influences I felt. It could be said that 'Basic Pleasure Model' is sci fi, but that would ignore the use of filters to create “distance” between the listener and the music, and the purposeful shortness of the track that acts as a punctuation mark in the album, perhaps a poster for an android companion in the subway tunnel. 'I Wanted To See You' is another punctuation mark, a sensual breath over the phone, a picture pulled from a wallet.
Ornaments travels to many places, including the airy heights of some of the best ‘90s EDM (weren’t we still calling it electronica back then?) with tracks like 'Blitz' and 'Blitz II', which serve as bookends to 'The Way Of The Bomb', itself a reminder of Orbital’s first two albums.
Each track has its own distinct charm and engaging qualities that draw the listener inward, but none moreso, for me anyway, than the title track. 'Ornaments' is simply magnificent from an emotional standpoint. It glitters and soothes, each instrument is a light pulsating in the darkness until the darkness itself is burned away and only thousands of brilliant, glowing colors remain.
'A Better Tomorrow' is a the cinematic end to Ornaments that blends intensity, longing, hope and mourning together. Again, these tracks are woven together organically, not programmed or produced.
I believe that Sferro has reached a high point in his creative endeavors and Ornaments demonstrates an emotional maturity as well as a nose for proper musical chemistry. The album doesn’t tell a story so much as it paints scenes that allow our emotions and imaginations to act and play freely in.
2015 was a great year for synthwave because there was a lot of stuff that came out that well, wasn’t so cut and dried “synthwave” and this album is a prime example of that. And I’m going to break my promise about not having any Christmas puns, because Ornaments is Sferro’s gift to us.
Girlfriend Records presents Sferro's Ornaments album on their Bandcamp page here and it comes very, very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM.