Pan & Me: Paal

On his Pan & Me solo outing Paal, Christopher Mevel largely leaves behind the jazz associations of his work in The Dale Cooper Quartet. In its place is texturally rich scene-painting of the kind one might expect to find on Hibernate, Home Normal, and labels of similar ilk. Paal's mood is generally downcast, with the material itself largely assembled from field recordings, samples, and a modest array of instrument sounds, strings and piano primarily.

Atmospheric from its first breath, Paal emerges out of a thick bed of vinyl crackle via “The Lighthouse at Two Lights,” with its crinkly textures quickly joined by a viola's mournful moan and, appropriately, water noises. We're in dark ambient territory of the Miasmah kind, and the mood is suitably unsettling, especially when ghoulish winds blow, creaks appear, and the skies darken. At ten minutes, the piece is long enough to accommodate dramatic scene-changes, which is exactly what happens halfway through when the music drops out, leaving in its wake spectral murmurings, a slow heartbeat pulse, and gloomy field recording noises. The longest of the album's six pieces, “The Lighthouse at Two Lights” also casts a shadow over the others for being so powerfully evocative a sound painting.

The melancholy etude “Unalaska” relocates us to a remote cabin where someone's playing a slightly out-of-tune piano, perhaps trying to lessen the feeling of isolation in doing so. Suggestive of how difficult it is for Mevel to banish all evidence of his connection to The Dale Cooper Quartet, “The Everlasting Fog” finds a strong sense of noirish jazz seeping into the album, while the more aggressive “53º 18' N 167º 52' W” allows a smattering of post-rock to emerge, especially when beats become part of the generally foreboding aural fabric. The recording ends on a graceful note with the string-heavy meditation “The Clearing,” whose subtle suggestion of uplift hints that the adventure in question might have come to a less-than-tragic end.

Given how visually suggestive the material is, it isn't difficult to hear Paal as a motion picture soundtrack (as the liner notes purport it to be), a tendency reinforced by the sleeve's textual content, which reads like a diary passage discovered after its author's disappearance. At thirty-five minutes, it's a relatively short album, yet Paal's brooding experimental moodscaping nevertheless leaves its mark.

March 2012