'Steve Moore - The Henge'

Review by Gregory S. Burkart

When it comes to old-school electronic music, I am a bona fide card-carrying elitist music geek, and damn proud of that status, thank you very much. The esoterica of twiddling knobs, routing patch-cables and poring over waveform schematics and circuit boards to create sounds not of this earth is the work of the enlightened ones, and as a would-be novitiate I regularly genuflect at the altar of Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre, Tomita, Vangelis, early Popol Vuh... the list is long, and oh yes brothers and sisters, it is growing. As generations pass, the priesthood often requires fresh new blood to revitalize the secret world of analog alchemy... and I think I may have found a donor. Among the elders, some call him... Steve.

You may have already heard Steve Moore's work as one-half of the unbelievably awesome prog-rock instrumental duo Zombi. If so, you know what to expect. If you haven't heard these Pittsburgh-based bad boys, their sound is a bit tough to describe, but start by imagining Goblin from their Suspiria period jamming with Rush (minus Geddy Lee) on a John Carpenter movie score, and you might be getting close... sort of. Just go check them out as soon as you can, because their sophomore album Surface to Air is just about the coolest thing you'll ever hear, and its predecessor Cosmos is a close second. I'd recommend seeking them out if they travel near your neck of the woods, as they tour frequently, and their live show is an unforgettable experience.

I suppose it's going to be hard to top something on the level of what I've just described, and Moore's first solo outing isn't quite on that sublime level of excellence, but it's strong enough for you to recognize the talent that Moore brings to that duo, and he brings it again in The Henge.

From the spacy, 2001-influenced opening notes of the first track, this is a blast of vintage electronic majesty ? the swirling psychedelia of modular Moogs, Prophets and all manner of warm, rich analog synth tones, mingle with the seriously old-school vibe of Hammond organ, Mellotron strings and choirs, rumbling bass guitars, clavinet and grand piano (occasionally distorted enough to blow your speakers, so watch out on ?Dead Tide,? seriously). Though mostly drifting in and out of dense, layered sonic clouds, Moore occasionally slams you headlong into walls of robust bass, crunchy rhythm patches, filtered sweeps (think early '80s John Carpenter) and springy arpeggios (especially in the closing track, ?Cepheid?) that sparkle in the higher frequencies while retaining a warm, creamy texture.

My only real complaint about The Henge is that, at 43 minutes, it's over way too quickly. I cued it up a second time while writing this review and had to run it through yet again, because my brain just wasn't done soaking it up. And that's what works about it, I think ? it creeps in when you're relaxed and open, and fills your mind with images from your favorite European horror flicks, or sends your imaginary self careening down the nighttime streets of Milan in a really tiny orange car. Try it, you'll know exactly what I mean.

Don't go into this expecting hooks or traditional rock structures, 'cause you ain't gonna find 'em. Many of Moore's sonic wanderings continue for five or ten minutes at a stretch with seemingly little variation, until you listen carefully for the gentle interweaving of new patterns and textures. I hate to lump it into the formless category of ?Ambient,? because that makes it sound like something from NPR's ?Hearts of Space.? But this is ambiance in the purest definition of that word, in that it creates an environment for your thoughts to explore. It's both relaxing and stimulating, like a sonic sauna. So get naked and dive in.