On Tour: The Moth & the Flame

The band has a knack for combining ambitious production, layering sounds, and melding moods.


For me, noncommercial broadcast radio has been a saving grace, a life preserver in a modern age where the overabundance of available music can overwhelm and undermine a person’s desire to consume it. It’s Brewster’s Millions manifest: the unseemly habit of stealing music at the turn of the century being broken by force-feeding it to us mercilessly. The irony is, there’s no Jackie Gleeson haunting us via pre-taped message; we gorged on it of our own volition. As bittersweet as that may be, the silver lining, the blessing amid the curses, is the music that sticks with us and isn’t washed away in the tide of blogs, streaming service playlists, and placements in other media. It’s because of this that I have grown to treasure the semi-local community college radio station in my area: WLCA.

In the 17 years I’ve been back in the St. Louis metropolitan area, WLCA has consistently played music you won’t hear on any of the other local stations, songs and artists I seldom see featured in popular music publications or blogs. I’ve listened as artists they feature gain momentum and break through to some measure of acclaim, or sell out their shows here with little to no support from any of the local stations and publications. The staff at WLCA have a knack for finding music their listeners will like immediately, rather than coaching listeners into appreciating something. They take risks and format songs that may be off the beaten path, but they manage to find artists with a balance between accessibility and artistic ambition.

The Moth & the Flame, of whom I was relatively ignorant, is one of those bands. Hearing “Live While I Breathe” on my daily commute was the bait on a hook, and their album Young & Unafraid, free to stream on their Soundcloud page, reeled me in. Yet again, my confidence in WLCA knowing what would appeal to their listeners was validated. As is always the case, finding Young & Unafraid was only the beginning of my query.

Whenever I hear a band that sounds as refined and focused as The Moth & the Flame, my first assumption is that they have more work of which I’m unaware. Sometimes that material is little more than a document of their growth; other times, it verifies that the talent that ensnared me was ever-present and cultivated in a thoughtful manner. The Moth & the Flame acquitted themselves at every step in my excavation process. I went in blind with no knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the recording and release of Young & Unafraid or their self-titled debut, and came away excited by the prospect of listening to them repeatedly, and with more releases to come.

What compelled me to be so taken by their music? Well, to be honest, it was their knack for combining ambitious production, layering sounds, and melding moods. In a post–Kid A world, inward-focused rock music has taken on new level of artful sophistication, and the age of digital production caused that to bleed into just about every other genre of music that aspired to some measure of modernity. That made Radiohead comparisons a dime a dozen, and as meaningful as being labeled “the biggest band in the world.” But along the way, there were bands that took advantage of the newfound artistic freedom, stitching together what may have previously been disparate or unfashionable threads, and draping themselves in finer fabrics than one might expect. Some of these artists were only experimenting, and were uncomfortable in that clothing and shed it, rather than evolving their style while incorporating elements.

Over these 16 years many bands have come and gone, and of them, the best works of artists like MUTEMATH, Elbow, Sufjan Stephens, Kashmir, Doves, National Skyline, Civil Twilight, Other Lives, As Tall as Lions, and Barcelona have proven the there is a permanent place in music for accessible, yet sophisticated art rock in our diets, even if we lack an appropriate label to house it. The Moth & the Flame affirm this, inheriting the calling of their antecedents, having mastered their craft.

The Moth & the Flame apply a delicate touch to their ambitious work. The sophistication never outshines immediacy. The dynamic balance never settles into a rut or revels in a tumult. Each song, and ultimately each release in its entirety, flows in a upward trajectory, like a waveform with gradual variances in amplitude. The gracefulness in the execution of their craft is inspiring as the wide open sky of the state from which they hail. | Willie Edward Smith

The Moth and the Flame makes a stop at Firebird in St. Louis on December 6.

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