Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone: Departure of Reason

Two fine musicians frustrate efforts to pin them down, resulting in a frustrating album.

Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone

Departure of Reason

Label: Thirsty Ear
US Release Date: 2011-11-15
UK Release Date: 2011-11-15
Label website
Artist website

Departure of Reason, the fourth collaboration between New York guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone, frustrates any effort to pin it down. If you want it to be a bunch of freeform guitar noise and pedal effects (I sort of do), Halvorson and Pavone confound you by framing such moments with simply constructed melodies. If you’d prefer a lovely madrigal-folk record to play at a dinner party, the women will string you along only so far before busting out some badass power chords and slippery detuned squiggles. And if you note their association with NYC’s avant-garde and reason, “Well, THIS will keep me awake on my car trip”, think again. I say this as a public service.

Not that it’s boring, exactly -- a careful listen through headphones reveals a wealth of cool stuff happening, mostly in the guitar but also in Pavone’s viola. Pavone spins out modestly attractive melodies with a rich tone, and she makes them sing using subtle effects. She’ll screw with her perfect intonation like a blues singer; she alters her timbre to make tunes pop out of the musical texture, or to create textures that sound muddy and scary. Near the end of the short track “Onslaught”, Pavone somehow juxtaposes two bowed figures, a quick ostinato, and a longer three-note descant. Her playing is impressively forthright.

Halvorson is the flashier player, jumping among the sounds and techniques her electric guitar will allow. There’s a moment in the song “Begin Again” where she gets two distinct tone colors to melt down against one another contrapuntally, a moment that elicited the truest aesthetic response in my notes: “WTF HOW IS SHE DOING THIS”. Halvorson has several other “How is she doing this” moments here, like the middle of “New October”, where she jumps from a power-chord/ostinato onslaught -- more counterpoint! -- to a sort of dry chime that blends seamlessly with Pavone’s pizzicato. She also uses plenty of that Halvorson trademark, an abrupt slide into wobbly semi-tonality that’s nauseating in the best possible way.

Honestly, if you spent the next year seeking out the complete discographies of Halvorson and Pavone, you’d probably lead a very rich and rewarding life. That said, Departure of Reason feels like a minor work, its creators trying something they haven’t fully realized yet. The songs alternate simple tunes with the sorts of cool effects described above, and the tunes aren’t much -- they’re overly simple and hamfisted, expedient melodic frameworks for the stuff the women really want to play. The music seems bipolar and unintegrated. It switches between moods when you want it to flow, presents its disparate ideas for consideration when you want those ideas to sweep you up and carry you along to the next ones.

Frustrations aside, Departure of Reason is still an opportunity to hear two exciting instrumentalists adding to their bodies of work. (They also sing on three songs, but that’s not what you pay to hear.) It’s an album that forces you to focus on its subtleties, which are mostly worth the effort.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.