Paul Ellis: Moth in Flames
Spotted Peccary Music

Deborah Martin: Eye of the Wizard
Spotted Peccary Music

The recent reissue of Under The Moon showed that Deborah Martin's recording has not witnessed any loss of lustre in the twenty years since it first appeared. But Martin, who's been with Spotted Peccary Music since 1991, is still very much a vital creative force, as her latest release of new material, Eye of the Wizard, makes unqualifiedly clear. In place of synthesizer-heavy space odysseys, Martin's mystical settings evoke magical woodlands populated with faeries and wizards.

The sonic range of the material is bolstered by a small number of guest musicians who complement Martin's acoustic guitars, dulcimer, synthesizers, loops, and percussion with ambient electric guitar (Matthew Stewart) and E-bow guitar (Paul Frye). Her distinctive blend of acoustic and synthetic sonorities is on display from the first moment when the high-spirited reverie “Dance of the Faeries” merges acoustic guitars with hand percussion and atmospherically evocative ambient textures. The resonant pluck of the dulcimer amplifies the mystical character of “Watchers” and “The Alchemist's Robe” at the same time as pulsing rhythms and sweeping synth textures lend the material a sleek, 21st-century sheen.

Hushed female vocals breathe across the lilting strings and acoustic guitars of “Lords of the Vale,” a stately minuet of immense charm and beauty. While the rapt stillness that characterizes an awakening realm is convincingly conveyed by the drifting synthetics of “Waiting,” there's room for animation in Martin's world, too, as shown by the kinetic propulsion that drives “Metamorphic.” Elsewhere, Frye's shimmering E-bow adds considerable atmosphere to the title track, though it's but one element in a multi-hued tapestry of acoustic and electronic sounds.

Eye of the Wizard is a superbly crafted collection of eight compositions that one could treat as a summative portrait of Martin today. Extensive travel and life experience have enriched her musical vision, and consequently the material she creates possesses a depth and quality that helps it endure. In its own way, it's a modest recording that doesn't overwhelm the listener with grand gestures or overkill; instead, she confidently demonstrates her artistry by presenting eight pieces marked by concision and unerring taste.

In contrast to Martin's collection, 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.

November 2015