May 30, 2013 Web Exclusive
Orange Juice, The Shop Assistants, Close Lobsters, Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura; the list could keep going. For the last 30 years, the Scots have been primary players in a particularly wistful piece of the musical landscape, whether you care to call it indie pop, shambling, anorak, or twee. Scotland's rich musical line can be read about at length elsewhere, but we'll try to sum it up: indie pop is one of Scotland's most precious musical exports, and much of its current prominence can point back to The Pastels.
Led by Stephen McRobbie—Stephen Pastel—this Glasgow band formed in the early 1980s and became a focal point of the indie pop zeitgeist that spun out of NME's C86 mix tape. After four genuinely great records, the group went semi-quiet in 1997. Since then, they've put out a soundtrack, a remix disc, and some collaborative works, but no proper album; Slow Summits is their first in 16 years.
The small problem with this comeback record has more to do with the bands that came in The Pastels' wake; now, the influential act sounds a bit too close to the bands they influenced. The easygoing vibe, co-ed pop vocals, and relaxed horns here sound similar to many of the records Belle & Sebastian have put out since picking up their mantle. Slow Summits is a lot smoother than the rough, carefree-sounding approach from the band's early years, but they can't be faulted for sounding professional three decades into their career. Nitpicking aside, it's a gratifying collection of sunny, gentle indie pop. Few bands can shake off such a long hiatus without a little residual rust; The Pastels have done it better than most. Let's hope they don't wait another decade before they decide to record the next one. (www.thepastels.org)
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