Pausal: Avifaunal

Pausal ideally should be experienced in concert, given the impact large-scale visuals created by band members Alex Smalley and Simon Bainton have on their music's live presentation. Yet while that might be so, the UK-based duo's latest full-length doesn't suffer for being visuals-free, the mesmerizing cover artwork by Smalley and Maria A. Schmidt aside. Issued in a CD edition of 200, Avifaunal splits down the middle, with its first half given to “Murmuration,” a three-part opus recorded live in July 2015, and the second three separate tracks titled “Spiral,” “Scatter,” and “Soar” that the duo edited and assembled from recording sessions.

The two bring years of experience to the release: Smalley's issued a number of recordings under the Olan Mill alias, whereas Bainton's released material on Hibernate; as Pausal, the two have appeared on Barge Recordings, Students of Decay, Own Records, and Infraction prior to this Dronarivm date. Asked by Touched Music's Martin Boulton to perform in Pembrokeshire, Wales, Pausal set about generating new material using a new equipment setup that included a looped turntable, voice microphones, and synths, the eventual result being “Murmuration.” Its opening part immediately catches the ear when tremulous strings drift lullingly across a backdrop of soft vinyl crackle and electric guitar shadings. Gradually losing definition, sounds melt together until a vaporous fog forms out of which ghostly fragments emerge. As the minutes pass, the music swells in volume and intensity, assuming the shape of an immense, shimmering mass of rather symphonic character, until decompression brings with it a sense of calm. Things pick up for “Murmuration II” with the duo conjuring a quasi-psychedelic forest setting populated with goblins and other night creatures, after which the dramatic final part exudes a mystical quality that invites comparison to Popol Vuh.

As credible as they are, the non-live tracks can't help but seem a tad anti-climactic arriving as they do after the epic “Murmuration.” That being said, the album's second half has its moments, whether it be the agitated metallic swirl accompanying expressive synth flourishes in “Scatter” or the softly murmuring aggregate of processed pianos and other sounds floating through “Soar.” As the album title refers to birds of a particular region or period, whatever specific connection it has to the recording isn't clear (at least not to me), though that hardly argues against its selection. Avifaunal's forty-six minutes of musical material hold up perfectly well on their own terms, regardless of Smalley and Bainton's choice of title.

July 2017