Brightonsfinest were impressed by Pavo Pavo’s debut album, 2016’s Young Narrator In The Breakers, marking them as one of those rare bands who emerge with a fully-formed sound and aesthetic right from the get go. Our reviewer, Ben Walker, praised the album for its “big ideas” and “delightful melodies”. We were so impressed, in fact, that we had to have the band perform at our Great Escape Festival showcase last year, with those spectral synths and melodies soaring right to the rafters in the beautiful setting of St Mary’s Church.
Mystery Hour has a lot to live up to then, being the band’s chance to showcase their staying power, to prove that first effort was no fluke. Unfortunately the album’s press release announces that the song-writing couple behind Pavo Pavo, singers Eliza Bagg and Oliver Hill, have broken-up. A six-year relationship, which one must presume formed the glue for the band’s formative years, has broken down. Triumphantly, though, the pair have continued to work together within the band and as writers, creating Mystery Hour as a way to work through the changing dynamic of their relationship, and explore the tragedy and transformation in song for perpetuity. While such a prospect sounds stressful, and certainly not something I’d like to go through myself, it does put it in the same territory as classic relationship breakdown albums; Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours being the obvious analogue.
The title track gives us familiarity from the off, Bagg’s ethereal vocal soaring above the band’s epic pop, drenched in reverb, and joined by Hill for the refrain: “Mon cheri, I’m designed to be unsatisfied”. As the track progresses, harder distorted guitars blend in and spooky orchestral elements seamlessly enter the mix, tugging on our heartstrings with the clear romantic connotations. Maybe they are milking this for all it’s worth, but it works, setting the scene beautifully for what’s to come. It connects to the following song through what feels like a former pet name the pair shared, ‘Mon Cheri’ though, feels tougher, like it’s married the chromatic notes from Radiohead’s jarring ‘Myxamatosis’ to some forgotten 70s Italo disco-funk. Before long the track is detouring from its strong verses into strange tangents, which feels like Hill getting some of his frustrations off his chest, albeit with some decidedly odd choices, like the lyric: “Just one wet finger in the dark/is enough to put out a spark”.
The album continues to switch moods between tracks, with the ethereal trip-hop beats of ‘Easy’ full of soft, subtle melancholy, and ‘100 Years’ sounding Beatles-esque, but also so much more, as wonderful melody and surprising arrangement choices take us on a delightful journey, that only disappoints slightly when it ends on a fade-out, which I can’t help but see as a bit of a cop-out. Yet, it’s a minor grumble when the following song is such a joy. ‘Check The Weather’ is driven by a retro funk bass, which Kevin Parker would have been proud of, but this track is its own beast and my favourite not to have been teased as a single. ‘Close To Your Ego’ continues with the sparkling retro pop, full of hooks and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it arrangement that will bring you coming back for more. The album continues to delight the further you progress into it, and the more times you play it. Sure, it’s retro as hell and reminds at times of other recent American bands ploughing a similar furrow, like The Lemon Twigs, or perhaps Daniel Rossen’s pre-Grizzly Bear project, The Department Of Eagles. However, I wouldn’t want to sell Pavo Pavo short by suggesting they are in any way derivative. While there are moments, like the Beach Boys-esque breakdown at the end of ‘Around, Pt 1’, which wear their influences on their sleeves, there are so many elements thrown into this melting pot that the end product has a life and sound all its own.
With the break-up premise of the record you’d be forgiven for worrying this is going to be a misery hour, but that’s not the case. Within their experimentations and the soaring melodies throughout, it’s a record which explores many moods and modes. It’s dripping with nostalgia for a love lost, but doesn’t shy away from showing us hints of anger and regret, and even has time for a bit of unexpected fun along the way. Maybe their relationship couldn’t make it, but here’s to hoping the band continues to survive and thrive, providing us with exceptional retro pop for years to come!