At the outset of Moth in Flames, it feels like Paul Ellis is laying out his sound set for us—an electro-flutter here, a tenuous sequencer there, perhaps a bit of star-whoosh lifted from the 70s sonic lending library. With these elements mise en place, he starts to spin them together in a Berlin-powered journey that’s mostly smooth as glass. We get spring-loaded bass sequences underscoring most tracks, meaty and familiar. “Lights of a Departing Train” hits with big shots of it, leading us into a piece that’s got strong hints of Tangerine Dream. The bass is offset with high tones and washes, and the track drops out to an arpeggiated melody with a subtle jazz vibe. (An homage to “Love on a Real Train,” maybe?) The bass takes control late in the title track, with an extra touch of reverb and fade to it. Effective against the lighter, shining tones around it. Other tracks don’t rely on the bass. “She Walks in Beauty” gets off to a quiet start, with a blend of symphonic strings and sparse pads. Ellis glazes it with a touch of dramatic tension. It builds to a too-brief pulse of tribal-style percussion in its final moments. “Waves for Durga” gives us flute tones and a sound that rises up to hum like a tanbura. Under it there’s a snappy, almost bossa-nova-esque sequencer line that’s a bit of fun. I must say this one toes the obvious New Age line a bit closely for my tastes, but there’s still a lot to dig. Ellis keeps his tracks short- to mid-length, most under eight minutes, and saves up a bit for his closer, the 14-minute “Between the Trees; Mount Hood.” It’s a slow burn of varying dynamics, bass notes hanging in the air like clouds, electronic chirps and scurries of sequencer running past. Its quiet moments are breath-slowing exhalations that pair off well with the tenser passages. There’s something of an improvised feel to its quick turns and sudden entries, but it’s not obtrusive. A nice dive.
My only issue with Moth in Flames is that although I enjoy it, I feel like I never fully engaged with it as a deeper listen. Certainly its parts are of good quality—great textures, spot-on classic sequencer work, ample detail—but I prefer it a track or two at a time. I seem to stay with it better that way. Still, with its classic analog feel and enough bass to satisfy a roomful of low-end junkies, it’s surely worth the time. And although I don’t normally comment on art or design, I love Pablo Magne’s cover photo here. Definitely has a Pink Floyd edge to it.
Available from Spotted Peccary.