First things first: The Pastels have never made a bad record. Rewind as far back to 1982's Songs For Children EP and it's difficult to find fault with that or anything they've recorded since. While some might recoil in horror at the shambolic nature of their recordings, particularly during those formative years, there's always been a naive charm associated with the Glaswegian group that's ensured their evolution into indie pop legends. Now, some 30 years on from that first EP and another 16 from their last fully-fledged LP, Illuminations, the core duo of Stephen Pastel and Katrina Mitchell are back.
Slow Summits represents arguably their most lovelorn, and occasionally exploratory collection of songs to date. While not brash or boisterous like debut long player Up For A Bit... and its predecessor Sittin' Pretty, Slow Summits is everything one would hope and expect to hear from a band cited as an influence by anyone and everyone from Kurt Cobain and Stuart Murdoch to Bobby Gillespie and Thurston Moore. The Pastels were never ones to scream bold statements of intent to the heavens. Instead, their approach is infinitely more subtle yet no less unwittingly aimed in the direction of the stars; the ones that twinkle and glisten radiantly rather than shoot violently across the stratospheres.
Two Sunsets, their 2009 collaboration with Japanese duo Tenniscoats hinted at a more fragile, and often poignant melancholia. Here, observational asides ("Leaves falling on a European street") sit hand in hand with lovelorn ripostes ("I could never say goodbye") as on opening couplet 'Secret Music' and 'Don't Wait'. While the two main protagonists share lead vocals, it's the arrangements that lift each of Slow Summits' nine pieces from dormitory musings to grandiose, solipsistic laments.
Recent single 'Check My Heart' could be the sound of summer as soundtracked by a modern day Phil Spector while penultimate number 'Slowly Taking Place' takes quaint to a whole new orchestral dimension. The sentiment behind 'Summer Rain' may be more appropriate at present, Stephen Pastel's nonchalant vocal sounding prophetic over its maudlin backdrop.
Reflective instrumental 'Plus You' could double up as the closing titles segment for a period drama set in the northern countryside. Clocking in at 11 seconds short of three minutes, its midpoint placing separates Slow Summits into two distinct halves. Picking up the pace albeit amidst a darker undertone is 'The Wrong Light', which lollops and frolics unnervingly, Pastel declaring "We're shadows of the night" in mischievous fashion.
And so it goes. Nothing unduly groundbreaking here, yet at the same time always brutally refreshing. Which pretty much sums up indie pop's last standing bastions. Long live The Pastels; the world would be a much lesser place without them.
8Dom Gourlay's Score