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Pavo Pavo - Mystery Hour Music Album Reviews

This baroque pop record is pleasant and roomy, but peer inside to find a fragmented portrait of heartbreak shared by the band’s cofounders.

At first blush, Mystery Hour seems like a nice sophomore effort from Pavo Pavo, a five-piece with a tight, winsome, and dewy approach to psych-pop. It’s not hard to fall for their baroque synthesizer flourishes or the occasional dramatic trill of strings. Cofounder Eliza Bagg, who sings in prestigious new music circles, has consummate control over her soprano; her counterpart, the accomplished string arranger Oliver Hill, isn’t afraid to get weird with his harmonies. The music can sound plucked from some fever dream scenario where She & Him front Spiritualized. When Pavo Pavo were recording Mystery Hour, they were inspired by Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou and Breathless, and these songs certainly sport the put-on chic sensibility of the French New Wave.

But what separates Mystery Hour from simply being “pretty” stems from its backstory—the lyrics to be explored, the tension they impart. Mystery Hour documents the breakup of Bagg and Hill, who started Pavo Pavo while students at Yale. So how do you write and sing about how your heart hurts when the cause is in the room? For Pavo Pavo, now based both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, the songwriting duties were, well, split up. There are Bagg songs and Hill songs—with the exception of the opening title track, the last tune written for this album. “Mystery Hour” hinges on the idea of feeling listlessly unhappy in a relationship to the point of recoiling: “Mon chéri, I’m designed to be unsatisfied,” goes the hook. This unrest pushes against the song’s aura, which radiates warmth through multiple guitars drenched in fuzz. Bagg and Hill effortlessly harmonize while the noise builds around them, glowing like the golden hour in the desert.

Pavo Pavo’s exploration of a relationship’s dissolution is most potent near the record’s midpoint. This constellation of songs finds Bagg and Hill doing their most intimate writing, examining the paint chips of their relationship through poetics and airy composition. This intimacy is never explicit, always lingering on the horizon. Take “Check the Weather,” a song that is fussy in its baroque pop prowess. Bagg follows Hill’s lead here, complementing his narration with a series of misty oohs and ahs. Synths burble like a water fountain, the twin guitars arpeggiated into oblivion. “I’m stuck in your indecision/Pass the bread,” they sing together, a gut-punching line that is so quotidian and delivered so nonchalantly it stings. For “Close to Your Ego,” largely about longing and feeling fed up, Pavo Pavo decide that, when the going gets tough, you ought to offer the sexiest guitar break you’ve got. A polychromatic riff starts out rigid then tumbles through a wormhole of reverb, becoming shaggier as time wrings itself out.

Pavo Pavo’s interest in getting psychedelic can occasionally inch toward kitsch. “Statue Is a Man Inside,” for instance, sounds like it belongs in the opening credits of an arthouse B-movie, streamed after sparking a bowl. The song pulls in elements of astral Pink Floyd and bloated psych atmospheres. “Bleached in the sun/Amid the sandstars/I’ll be fine/Statue is a man inside,” goes one emblematically wacky line. But for the most part, Mystery Hour is a quietly poetic record that explores the stuff of life, love, and loss with a clear head.

There are no explicitly messy endings on this album: No furniture is moved. No plates are shattered. No one leaves the apartment at two in the morning in tears. Mystery Hour instead makes the difficult and deliberate decision to conceal a fair amount of the split, like ABBA’s The Visitors. These 11 songs have the overstuffed quality of roomy indie pop that can easily play in the background of an iPad commercial or happy hour at a hip bar. But peek inside: Beneath all the niceties, there’s an orb of heartbreak deep enough to pump blood into your blues.


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