Pavo Pavo Transform Separation Into Solace on 'Mystery Hour'

Photo courtesy of Bella Union

Pavo Pavo's Mystery Hour captures the highs and lows of love by fluctuating between sparse sorrow and luscious excitement.

Mystery Hour
Pavo Pavo

Bella Union

25 January 2019

Dream pop outfit Pavo Pavo is the brainchild of Eliza Bagg (vocals/strings/synths) and Oliver Hill (vocals/guitar/keys), whose 2016 debut, Young Narrator in the Breakers, earned considerable praise from major publications. Rounded out by Pete Coccoma (guitar), Noah Hecht (drums), and Ian Romer (vocals/bass), they amalgamate lively quirkiness and moving gentleness into a diverse and distinctive identity that's always surprising, touching, and curious. Their sophomore effort, Mystery Hour, harnesses and expands upon everything that made their first outing so stimulating, resulting in an equal—if not superior—follow-up that further strengthens their idiosyncratic cleverness.

The band justly describes the record as "a focused, widescreen development... [and] a fever dream filled with cinematic imagery" that revolves around "the narrative drama of Oliver and Eliza's changing relationship". Specifically, it was written as they were parting ways following a six-year coupling, and it ultimately impacted "the alchemy of their separating process and inform[ed] their new roles in each other's lives". Thematically, its inspirations go beyond other music to include artists like filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, painter David Hockney, and multimedia creator Alex da Corte. As for the main visual of Mystery Hour, photographer Natalie O'Moore "depicts [them] in turbulent conversation at the beach, resembling a film still". According to Hill, it's meant to connect to the Young Narrator front, as "that cover was a collage, and this is a photograph, the hi-res, come-to-life version." It makes sense, then, that Mystery Hour captures the highs and lows of love by fluctuating between sparse sorrow and luscious excitement so frequently and assuredly.

Although soberingly honest lyrically ("I realize love is to see every side of you / But mon cheri, I'm designed to be unsatisfied"), the opening title track is nonetheless exuberantly dense and bright. First and foremost, Bagg and Hill's angelic and grounded singing, respectively, complement each other very well, and the distorted guitar work, urgent piano chords, and metronomic rhythms create a sunnily tense environment. The atmospheric bookends and increasingly symphonic embellishments are nice touches, too. Afterward, "Mon Cheri" is hip and quirky as Hill leads the verses and spoken word passages above off-kilter synth treatments that conjure classic Super Furry Animals. "100 Years" is inventively chameleonic in its psychedelic pop shifts, whereas the two-part "Around" offers Beach Boys-esque bubbly feistiness, unpredictable instrumental fragmentations, and ethereal digital loneliness (a la Radiohead's Kid A or the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots) in like measure.

On the softer and emptier end of Mystery Hour comes "Easy", a haunting ballad built around programmed percussion, tender guitar strums, and Bagg's multi-layered exposures. Sadly and ironically, the pacifying and downtrodden "Check the Weather" proves once again that Pavo Pavo works best when both singers unite (as does the lulling warmth of ode "The Other Half", whose recurrent guitar and piano motif seem slightly lifted from Ben Folds' "Sentimental Guy"). Naturally, closer "Goldenrod" explores loss and longing with apt sonic abandonment to leave listeners with fatalistic romantic unfulfillment.

Mystery Hour is quite an accomplishment professionally and personally, as Bagg and Hill are congruently creative and confessional in expressing their arc with eloquent honesty and striving, novel artistry. Each track freshly reveals a part of their puzzle with style-shifting panache while simultaneously ensuring that the LP flows cohesively. Such a feat should warrant them even more acclaim and—realistically or not—motivate them to team up again in the studio, if not elsewhere as well.

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