Pausal: Lapses
Barge Recordings

Pitched as Barge Recordings' first formal ambient release, Lapses by Pausal (UK duo Simon Bainton and Alex Smalley) presents twelve interconnected settings produced from found sounds (field and old vinyl recordings) and acoustic instruments (guitar, piano, violin), with all of it radically re-shaped via processing and assorted effects.

Following an introductory flourish of field recorded traffic noise, the album proper begins with the album's longest piece, the fifteen-minute soundscape “Velmead in Common.” It quickly establishes itself as a monumental setting of multi-tiered ambient-drone that's so densely woven the source materials used to generate it are all but camouflaged in the process, though piano notes gradually come into clearer focus as the piece unfolds. Suffice it to say that over the course of its running time the track undergoes multiple changes in morphing from something billowing, vaporous, and cloud-like at its start into something more compact and retiring as it inches towards its close. Pausal executes such transformations with subtlety and elegance, and it is qualities such as these that distinguish their handling of the album's material most. Bainton and Smalley also wisely break up the ambient flow by placing brief, field recording-based vignettes in amongst the longer, more purely ambient settings. After “Without,” for example, exhales like some sleeping colossus, “Jetty,” not surprisingly, places field recordings of seagulls and waterlogged clatter at the forefront.

Admittedly, the group's style isn't without precedent. Subjected to a blindfold test, a listener well versed in the genre might well identify “Lapsing” as the work of Stars of the Lid, for example, so close in spirit is Pausal's celestial ambient-dronescaping to that of the celebrated kranky outfit. Abetted by the violin contributions of Svitlana Samoylenko, the piece exudes a neo-classical elegance that's also reminiscent of a prototypical Stars of the Lid piece. “One Watery Lens” likewise strips the music down to a pristine essence so that it emanates a church-like tranquility but then blossoms in its final minutes into what couold pass, in an alternate universe, for a duet for strings and mellotron. Throughout the recording, piano clusters and guitar streams liquefy into pools of shimmering ambient blur. It hardly needs be said that Lapses impresses as a noticeably accomplished recording, and even more so considering that it's Pausal's debut outing. If there's anything one might question, it's the album's seventy-minute running time, which, despite the high quality of the content, makes the recording feel overlong. A more concise, fifty-minute version of the album would be easier to digest in a single sitting.

May 2010