Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Slow Summits

When The Pastels released "Illumination" 16 years ago, I bought mine from the record department of John Smith & Son's bookshop on Byres Road.  It seemed like the right thing to do as Stephen Pastel worked there.  History repeated itself last Friday when I bought their new lp, "Slow Summits", from Monorail Music and Stephen once again handed me my lp and cd - both formats, I guess, because I am, as The Guardian recently put it, a "(gently) pathologically devoted fan".  Sure, I could have got it slightly cheaper online but in 2013, more than ever before, I'm choosy about where I spend my money.  Luckily, I live in Glasgow so can still choose to buy from an independent record shop.

It's such a thrill to hold the new lp and gaze upon Annabel Wright's glorious artwork. A month or so ago, I was sent a link via which I could download "Slow Summits", I clicked on it immediately and greedily watched the zip archive transferring.  I flirted with the idea of not listening to it right away so that I could experience it for the first time on vinyl but the thought of a cache of new Pastels recordings gathering metaphorical dust on my laptop was too much so I unzipped it, burned it to cd and dug right in; I never was that freakish kid who somehow hadn't scoffed everything in their selection box by Queen's speech time on Christmas day.  Having witnessed many of The Pastels' more recent concerts, a few songs were familiar ("Secret Music", "Slow Summits", "Wrong Light" and "Come To The Dance") but enhanced by luminous little details in their arrangements; some contributed by collaborators such as Tenniscoats and members of To Rococo Rot.  Other tracks, like "Summer Rain" with its restrained freakout ending and the subtly orchestrated, disarmingly pretty "Kicking Leaves", were wholly new and rubber-stamped my developing belief that "Slow Summits" was something special.

So many groups who start out with energy and a spark get old and gravitate all too quickly towards making more conventional rock records.  The Pastels have always been too astute, too unconventional and too genuinely in love with music from less championed corners (as proved by their marvellous Insane Energy Drop mix which accompanied my copies) to wander down that cul-de-sac to mundanity.  Instead, as time's gone on, they've increasingly accentuated the elegant and the thoughtful over the trashy and the nonchalant.  I'm glad that the release of the new Pastels lp has felt like an event.  That it has been so well received and that it has prompted some really memorable writing - most notably Richard King's wonderful piece - has been heartening to see.  On a personal level, it's a much needed reminder that life in 2013 has so much more to offer than Personal Development Plans, shattered windows, failed MOTs and the like and that sometimes the people you admire don't let you down.  Recently, things have been hectic and the need to simplify and do less has become urgent.  Purposefully making the the time to listen to "Slow Summits" without the distractions of the television or the laptop logged-on to Twitter has provided some much needed calm.  I guess, it's just nice to have something truly beautiful on which to focus.  The Pastels are still the best group I've ever heard.

The Pastels discuss "Slow Summits" with Sushil K. Dade aka The Future Pilot.

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