Pan & Me ~ Paal

Denovali Records has been doing a great service to the musical community by adopting quality recordings from humble labels and introducing them to wider audiences.  January saw two reissues from Petrels, and February brings a small jewel from Pan & Me, the solo project of Christopher Mevel (The Dale Cooper Quartet).  The short album was originally issued a year ago, but saw little action outside of France; in 2012, we expect it to gain some long-overdue recognition.

Fans of The Dale Cooper Quartet may as well throw their expectations out the window, as Paal sounds nothing like the work of that collective.  Instead, its influences are all over the map.  The ten-minute opening track, “The Lighthouse at Two Lights”, could easily be mistaken for an outtake from Field Rotation’s Acoustic Tales; the haunting viola motif, oxygenated breaths and over-amped static are direct relatives to the sounds of Christopher Berg.  But just as one is about to get comfortable with categorization, the entire project tilts on its axis, beginning with the ghostly manipulated voices that close the opening track.  Then there’s that 15 seconds of heartbeat bass:  an oddity lurking deep in an overlooked closet.  On “Unalaska”, the breaths move speaker-to-speaker while a piano plays and someone walks around the room; the last 15 seconds of this track include the sound of a heart monitor and the rapid beeping that indicates physical failure.  The monitor then becomes the opening beat of “The Everlasting Fog”, bookmarking the tempo until the drums ride into the room.  A bit of The Dale Cooper Quartet is found in this track, but so is a large cross-section of Staalplaat.

Halfway through the album, Mevel’s plan is still not apparent.  A series of squelches and squeals introduces “Bush leaf dreaming”, but the atonal is then joined by the ambient: field recordings of birds and puddles.  Then comes the highlight, “53º 18′ N 167º 52′ W”, which returns the viola to its more melodic paces while adding rhythm and water.  The monitor beeps a final protest.  Electronics join the fray.  This leaves only “The Clearing”, which possesses the Pachelbel pace of a graduation ceremony, although judging from what has gone before, it’s more likely to be a funeral.

In a sense, Paal is the mirror image of Nurse With Wound & Graham Bowers’ recent Rupture.  The latter reflects the chaos of a dying brain, while the former makes sense of it all.  When it was first released, Paal was called a soundtrack, although now it’s being advertised as imaginary.  One thing we do know for sure:  Mevel’s solo vision is a successful one, no less so than his group efforts.  We hope he will continue to pursue both.  (Richard Allen)

Release Date:  February 17

Available here

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