Some of the most poignant words I’ve ever heard from a musician came from Stephen from The Pastels, 6 or 7 years ago. This was a brief interview with Uncut, and he said something along these lines: “In the end you become as big as you are supposed to be”. Which is not much of a brilliantly original comment and would have been dismissed as a trite cliché were it not said by Stephen Pastel, at that time an indie has-been, a humble, half-forgotten owner of Monorail record shop (do visit it if you have a chance) in Glasgow. Presently, in 2013, Stephen is just as half-forgotten as he was back then. Definitely. Except that now he has a new record out.
A new album from The Pastels is hardly a huge event in a world of popular (or unpopular, for that matter) music and will no doubt slip by even those who still own the shabby, worn-out c-86 records, but for some of us Slow Summits was still one of the most anticipated albums of 2013. Does it deliver? Does it achieve more than the worthy but unexceptional 2009 collaboration with Japan’s Tenniscoats? More than the sweet and pretty, but ridiculously short and largely instrumental 2003 soundtrack The Last Great Wilderness? More than the decent but drowsy and anemic Illumination from 1997? It actually does. Quite simply, it’s their best album since Mobile Safari.
Because it still rings true, and you know it as soon as you hear the first words uttered by Katrina Mitchell, seconds into the heart-meltingly charming opener ‘Secret Music’ (how fitting): nobody does hopelessly romantic, moody yet strangely sunny pop tunes better than The Pastels. Mellow guitars and gleaming flutes set the mood. The Pastels are wistful on Slow Summits and almost never upbeat, but the melodies are rarely boring. The single ‘Check My Heart’ is catchy, charismatic indie pop, less rough than The Vaselines and more precious than Teenage Fanclub. The Stephen-sung “Night Time Made Us” is even better and features the album’s strongest hooks, vocal or instrumental. Elsewhere we have a couple of tracks that wouldn’t have been out of place on, say, The Last Great Wilderness, but even if the second half is a lot less remarkable or memorable, there’s no denying that once you are caught in that delirious summer haze, you’ll be fine.
In the end, Slow Summits sounds like Illumination with stronger songs. And even if part of my love for this album is stemmed in nostalgia – I don’t care. What I care for is a good tune. That and Stephen Pastel’s unforgettable croon.
Released on 27 May 2013 by Domino Records