Moth In Flames

Paul Ellis

Moth In Flames


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About Moth In Flames


1   In Flagrante Delicto

2   Moth in Flames

3   Birds Migrating over the Prison

4   Oh Well, Dear Silence

5   She Walks in Beauty

6   Lights of a Departing Train

7   Coeur De Lion

8   Waves for Durga

9   Stained Glass Observatory

10   Between the Trees; Mount Hood

Electronic music maestro Paul Ellis continues his lifelong exploration into the aesthetics of minimalism, ambient, space music, and the classic sequencer-driven “Berlin school” sound, on his third Spotted Peccary Music release, Moth In Flames. The veteran artist meticulously crafts restrained pulsing electronics that provide the measured momentum to steadily move through a morphing soundscape of classic analog synth moods and atmospheric textures, on his most refined work to date.

As a composer, Paul Ellis has always been deeply inspired by the minimalist and ambient aesthetic as much as by the Germanic pulsing sequencer style pioneered by such legends as Klaus Schulze, Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream.  “Sometimes the music is painted in bright modern lines and shapes with clearly defined melodic and harmonic movement, and sometimes it is expressed through ethereal and abstract geometries floating around you,” Ellis explains.  “I am interested in creating a musical space that has enough musical motion to hold the interest of the listener without arbitrarily changing the mood; a space that mesmerizes with slowly shifting patterns and enough air and tonal color to allow the imagination to freely go where it will.”

Indeed, like a perfectly placed pendulum, the music of Moth In Flames steadily moves through the blurred boundary where melodic and ambient music overlap, pulling from both worlds while never straying too far into either.  Its accessible appeal and expertly produced sonic highlights make Moth In Flames an album which can be listened to deeply, or played over and over again in the background as a continuously looped true ambient experience.


At first glance, and coming into it with no previous knowledge of Paul Ellis’s prior work, one might expect Moth in Flames to be a dreary song-delivery-machine era Pink Floyd derivative. That it isn’t is only one of its pleasures.

Those already familiar with Ellis’s work will have a better idea of what to expect: ambient, sequencer-based cosmic electronica that draws most heavily on the Berlin school (think Klaus Schulze, Manuel Göttsching, Tangerine Dream) and its offspring, tempered with a dash of VangelisBlade Runner soundtrack and a pinch of Jean Michel Jarre. Painting with sound is the order of the day, and Ellis paints very effectively.

One way in which Moth in Flames avoids mere imitation is in its brevity. Only one of the ten tracks here (the near fifteen-minute Between the Trees; Mount Hood) runs at over nine minutes, and one (Coeur de lion) doesn’t reach four. The sprawling soundscapes that tend to typify the Berlin school (and some of Ellis’s other releases) are entirely absent, and while the hour-plus epics have their own charms, the brief nature of much of Moth in Flames is another of its joys.

Paul Ellis

Paul Ellis

The defining characteristic of this album, in fact, may very well be its precision. For creating a style of music that is given to dreamy contemplation and immersive abstraction (track titles such as ‘Birds Migrating over the Prison’ and ‘Lights of a Departing Train’ indicate the impressionism that is the main order of the day, with the evocation of mood and emotion being paramount) that may perhaps seem contradictory, Ellis is too skillful a composer and too masterful of his technical craft to allow the results to be anything but seamless.

As a whole, the soul of Moth in Flames is in its clarity. There is so much space among the sequencer patterns, the ambient synth washes, the counterpoints, and the pulsing bass patterns, that the effect is almost vertiginous. Listening to this album in the dark on headphones, Ellis’s soundscapes open up into the expanses that lesser artists can only achieve strictly through the droning nature of long duration. Ellis’s use of breadth of sound to achieve the same result is very effective, with complex harmonic patterns and even (dare I say it…) melody.

Forward momentum is very seldom percussive (‘Oh Well, Dear Silence’ being a rare albeit temporary exception) and usually relies on bass and counterpoint to be effective. Indeed, some tracks (such as the stand-out ‘She Walks in Beauty’) have almost no movement at all, simply drifting into the final minute when another rare rhythmic pattern lasts a bare thirty seconds before fading away again.

On the whole, Moth in Flames is a gold-standard example of its genre. Visceral it is not. Calm and contemplative, this is music for the head rather than the body.  9 out of 10.

- Matt Leivers, Heathen Harvest

Upon request, Mr Ellis let me know the title of this release could mean several different things, from unrequited love to environmental problems. But the main thing he was actually thinking of with the phrase "Moth in Flames" is an artist becoming completely lost in the work itself. It has led to a quality recording for which Paul spent a lot of time crafting each sound from scratch as 0 presets were used.

In addition, he focused on a cleaner, precise sound while composing more concise pieces contrary to the much longer, stretched out tracks done previously. For "Moth in Flames", much emphasis was also put on the harmonic side to achieve a mesmerizing sonic environment containing still enough chord changes to keep a forward momentum going. At the same time, the composer aimed for a contemplative album that would generate a quiet mood, but assuring each track would have its own distinct flavor.

Well, all the aforementioned has come together very nicely on the exciting, pleasantly paced and quite complex "Moth in Flames", starting the flame over and over again with an arc of captivating sounds, pads and sequencer patterns featured in carefully molded compositions that all contain a beautiful sense of space and emotion along with some minimal touches.

For me, the in-depth atmospheric "She walks in beauty" is a special track due to its peculiar, almost enigmatic evolving shape. The main solo featured here is actually a violin and cello duet, with both violin and cello being put through separate synth filters so each part was phasing individually, sweeping in and out of focus. Another fine track is "Light of a departing train", although this piece displays a more energetic drive. A special note goes out to "Waves for Durga", where the music enters a beautiful vintage sonic aura. The final track "Between The Trees; Mount Hood", named after a local mountain in Oregon, is a gradually evolving soundscape describing life in a forest. The cinematic piece starts out in the daytime and later ending up in the mysterious, natural darkening phenomena taking place during nighttime. It’s a moody conclusion to this fascinating piece of sonic art definitely worth many listens. Well accomplished, Paul!

- Bert Strolenberg, Sonic Immersion

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 b it 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 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 entires, 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.

- John Shanahan, Hypnagogue

Paul Ellis's Moth In Flames roots itself solidly in synthetic sounds. Yet in no way does the album, his third for Spotted Peccary Music, feel diminished by that single-focused palette when each composition on the album is so impeccably crafted and conceived. Ten pieces are presented, each one of which Ellis has arranged and assembled with a surgical attention to detail. It's a consistently satisfying collection of song-like settings where obvious care has been applied to the placing of every element and its sonorous quality.

Ellis's affection for certain genres and precursors surfaces now and then, though his material is never overly derivative. That said, elements of electronic minimalism, ambient, space music, and sequencer-driven forms are present, all of which suggests he's drawn inspiration from Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, and Steve Roach, among others. Ellis's melodic soundscapes unfold with clear-headed purpose, and each piece registers as a complete story separate from the others. Gently pulsing, these resplendent soundscapes drift placidly through fields of analog synths and atmospheric textures, and moods of various kinds are explored, from the mournful (“She Walks in Beauty”) to the meditative (“Stained Glass Observatory”).

Titles such as “Birds Migrating Over the Prison” and “Lights of a Departing Train” enhance the evocative potential of the music itself, even if the latter is powerful enough to evoke impressions on its own. That said, the string-like washes that float over a pulsing base in “Birds Migrating Over the Prison” do suggest the graceful flight patterns of our winged friends; “Lights of a Departing Train,” on the other hand, evidences a noticeable degree of Autobahn-styled propulsion, while “Waves for Durga” sounds like an Indian sitarist jamming with Tangerine Dream in the ‘70s.

Don't be thrown by the Hipgnosis-styled cover imagery: Moth In Flames is no throwback to ‘70s prog. On the contrary, Ellis's music feels thoroughly contemporary, even if its synthesizer roots extend back a number of decades. As much, however, as one's attention can't help but focus on the sound design on display, one comes away from Moth In Flames most impressed by Ellis's talents as a composer.

- Ron Schepper, Textura

Pulsing colors and floating daydreams. Ellis’ compositions reach out in new directions, informed by both Berlin electronics and drifting minimalist ambient realms, bringing both together in a single unifying theme, being at once organic and colorful, plotting loops and textures against multi-dimensional shapes , drifting cloudlike formations and finely woven textures. The ten pieces herein are dominated by a variety of synthetic sounds, loops, and studio effects, and each covers vast areas of sonic terrain as it proceeds along its unique path. While some comparisons to classic Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze may be in order, there is less of a reliance on sequences (unless we are considering the Atem / Zeit era of TD) and the somewhat nervous electricity of Schulze, which is traded off in favor of a more gentle and soft textural minimalist approach melded with the Berlin fundamentals. Take “Stained Glass Observatory” as an example of dark encroaching textures overcoming an evolving colorful kaleidoscopic pattern; at times one seems to overcome the other, and then at other times it reverses itself, alternating dark and bright, occasionally reminding of the work of the late Michael Garrison. The title track opens with some oblique geometric melodies and shifting moods that repeat and evolve throughout its seven minutes and eventually find resolution via a pulsating groove to ride into the sunset. “Lights of a Departing Train” is an appropriately titled piece covering a forward leaning pulse groove swerving through cloudlike passages, slowing down to elaborate with some open patches of melodic abstraction, eventually picked up by the pulse and moved into the stormy groove. Every piece here has its own distinct personality, and overall make an interesting and enlightening musical journey.

- Peter Thelen, Exposé

In each album release Paul Ellis finds his moment. A big-thinker, his music is realized merely to be itself. The wonder of it is how often the experiments succeed. Moth in Flames (73'17") is recognizably Paul Ellis. On this coolly assured album, nothing is overblown - and none of it fails to hold our interest. Moth in Flames flits between subtleties and intricacies, and a guiding fuss-free propulsion. While the tightened structure of plump sequencer notes and sonorous synth-strings command the foreground, the background teems with nuanced modulations and ephemeral accents. Shifting, layered planes of sound present shimmering electronic textures - as heavens-reaching notes sketch jumpy dotted rhythms. Once the listener's internal narrative aligns with Ellis' arrangements, our minds begin moving faster than our heart rates. The polymetric pulses of Moth in Flames, and its complex interlocking patterns and repetitive motifs, deliver a potent sense of motion. Also featuring an agreeable melodic density and chord changes that beckon with a seductive pull, each listen brings us readily into contact with Ellis' controlled passion. It is in this transformation of the knower that the living movement of music is transferred. The listener grows and changes with these ten starry-eyed tracks, until the music eventually returns us to ourselves.

- Chuck van Zyl, Star's End

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