In a lot of ways, The Moth & The Flame’s new EP “&” (also called "Ampersand EP") is what you’d expect from a band in its position. It expands on the ethereal character of the band’s debut LP, while more assertively piquing the curiosity of whatever new fans or music industry folks might be listening. But that’s not to say it’s predictable. If anything, “&” raises questions about where the band’s sound is actually heading.
From the leadoff track “Sorry,” The Moth & The Flame establish a new, quicker pace and an evolved sonic texture. Their self-titled debut album was slower, contemplative and cavernous. This time around, though, lead singer Brandon Robbins’ wistful vocals interact with a much gutsier rhythm section. Produced by Joey Waronker (Atoms For Peace) and mixed by Peter Katis (The National), the drums and bass become the focal point on “&” — a common trend across all current popular music. The second track, “Winsome,” throws the listener for a loop with its tricky tribal rhythms and pulsating bass, punctuated by inquisitive guitar blips.
It sounds like Robbins has become a better singer in the past few years: On “Sorry” he spins a sophisticated melody, showing more range and elasticity than he once did. In general, “&” shows the band flexing many of its various muscles — from vocals to arrangements to instrumental prowess.
Whether it’s too showy, well, that’s hard to say. Listening to The Moth & The Flame in an EP format just feels different. In the past, their introspective songs felt perfect for an album’s worth of breathing room — moods can meander over 40ish minutes. On a six-song EP, though, things are different. And most of these new songs have such sonic grandeur that there isn’t as much space to catch your breath. Their debut LP was a slow burn; this new EP is more of an explosion. This beefier, more aggressive sound makes sense, though, considering the band’s current position — trying to make a splash in a fragmented, fractured, oversaturated market.
“&” does display a bit of intimacy toward the end. On the fifth song “Holy War,” pump organ and synths build over a repeated lyric, reminiscent of Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is a Cage.” It all wraps up with “How We Woke Up,” a song from their first album, which was never available digitally. That song, too, has some gentler moments, and helps bring things full circle. It’s a bold EP, and whether it indicates a move toward more stadium-ready songs is still undetermined. When their upcoming album drops in early 2014, we’ll find out.