Styles: cratonic synth jams, kosmische, ambient
Others: Michael Stearns, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Harald Großkopf
Rain begins to pour as a police Spinner rises vertically from the ground in thick streams of smoke, which run neatly from the jet engine like a concentrated efflux of fog descending over the city. Circling above looped video advertisements and towering structures, the vehicle glides slowly to the sound of Vangelis’ spiraling synth keys, electronic effects, and glitches. It’s an expertly shot sequence in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, one of many future-gazing films that opted for synthesized music in soundtracking the depiction of its characters as they connected with an unknowable world.
Throughout the 1980s, electronic — or electrified — music was frequently used to distill technological aspirations and illustrations of the future. These were channeled via the possibilities of transportation and the thrill of exploration, which came hand-in-hand with a curious undertone of loneliness. Pangaea Ultima is an indirect extension of those ideas, lending itself to emotional responses conjured by clear-cut, spacious, and daunting compositions on sequential circuits, instead of any imitative personification or nostalgia for retro sci-fi. Extrasolar organisms, multicolored planetary rings, the passing of geologic time — this album provides a lens to observe it all at close proximity; it’s a pensive gateway into the imagined potential of latitude and movement as forever changing constants.
As one half of the Pittsburgh synth/drum duo Zombi and a contributor to the epic space rock pursuits of Titan, Steve Moore’s musical endeavors make him a difficult artist to predict. A multi-instrumentalist with a flair for synths, bass, guitars, and percussion, he has also worked on mixes for Lower Dens, Holden, and Camille, which suggests that a number of influences have been swiftly sidelined on the record at hand. Moore’s compositional tactics — his ability to create and heighten tension, his use of rhythm to drive a synth lead forward, the range of his pallet — all contribute to the album’s grit. Not only does the music expand on postulations about the future, about exciting landscapes and investigation, but it also beautifies the loneliness that looms in the background of comparable releases on a futuristic synth bent.
That notion of solitude emerges from a distinct tenderness, which plays out within the texture of each track. Take, for instance, the slow-moving ambient frame of “Worldbuilding” or the desolate swathes of “Endless Mountains.” The moods they harbor are soft and refined, even though they’re accompanied by a tonal pressure that directs you towards an alternate headspace, one that’s comforting in the presentation of foreign entities. Aesthetically, these fragments connect with a 1980s synth flavor that’s often sought to symbolize instrumentation of the future. But instead of melding that with customary tropes (movements or objects that intentionally reflect the present or the mundane as a basis for contrast), Moore deals exclusively in these capacious, contemplative dimensions.
The relationship between solitude and exploration is most abrupt on “Nemesis,” which propels its listeners through an encapsulated tunnel of sound; the increase in tempo and the ascending pitch set the scene, while deep-seeded ambient surfaces pass somewhere underneath. Moore uses these spatial layers to forge the impression of being suspended, of looking above and below at imaginary vistas, but it’s not merely a visualization inspired by the music; it’s as though he’s enabling the listener to experience that sensation physically. As Tangerine Dream’s Edgar Froese said of synthesizer configurations, “it is always world music if you’re willing to follow not just the ethnic term.” On Pangaea Ultima, that world isn’t one with which the audience is typically familiar, but Moore does a spectacular job of making us feel at home there.
When taking Pangaea Ultima’s vast and complicated subject matter into account, it’s essential that Moore should grant his listeners a degree of control in foreseeing the direction of his agile synth planes. This comes in the form of a pulse, which not only varies in pace and aggression, but also bestows constraint in this soundtrack to an incomprehensible tectonic shift. “Deep Time” is the fastest-paced track to incorporate a beat; the bass thuds and distant chimes hold a staunch lead in place as it interacts with flailing keys. On the title track, the beat is used to balance a cavernous and saturnine sequence, where percussion offers a firm guidewire to inspect the intricate facets brewing under the track’s surface.
The bass tones on “Nemesis” allow for an additional level of intrigue, this time by providing a delightful, hypnotic intensity, yielding a continued enthusiasm to consider its surrounding details, which evolve and mutate throughout the album. Later, “Aphelion” builds on kaleidoscopic patterns that swell and sink into their own graceful depths, creating a giddy sense of exasperation and wonder, while “Planetwalk” piles more tension within the exploration it encourages, a sign that negotiating this journey won’t be entirely passive. Indeed, Moore has spoken in the past about the insignificance one might feel when dwelling on universal happenings in contrast to an otherwise daily grind, but on Pangaea Ultima, he bisects that seeming opposite by introducing a universe that welcomes an investigation of the most intrepid nature.
01. Endless Caverns
03. Deep Time
05. Pangaea Ultima
08. Endless Mountains