The term indie music has come to mean many things over the years, none of which bear a huge resemblance to its origins. Back in the dark days of the ’80s, independent music was a defined genre – spearheaded by the NME’s C86 compilation tape and a hotbed of awkward boys and girls and their jangly guitars. The Pastels were key to the movement’s Scottish division, spearheading a scene that featured such luminaries as BMX Bandits, Teenage Fanclub and The Shop Assistants. It was a time of paisley shirts, floppy fringes and band identities instead of surnames.
A mere sixteen years after their last proper release, The Pastels are back. Reunited around core members Stephen McRobbie (aka – yes – Stephen Pastel) and drummer Katrina Mitchell, what may have seemed like a foolhardy prospect actually proves to be a stroke of near genius. Not that they’ve made any concessions to the 21st century mind. Still signed to Domino, Slow Summits could have come straight out of their heyday. It’s suitably lo-fi, more than a little rough around the edges and, unsurprising given their roots in the world of cassettes, comes in at a tight nine tracks.
Keeping it so real works wonders. Given that McRobbie now plies his trade as a librarian this was never going to be an album of rock ‘n’ roll excess but it is still a record that sounds quaint in comparison to modern trends. Guided Chicago producer John McEntire, the instrumentation matches the subtlety of the songwriting. Fans of Belle & Sebastian will find much to love here, repaying the clear debt that Stuart Murdoch owes his spiritual predecessors. Slow Summits is full of gentle pleasures, the mood only broken when they move up a gear for the charming, punky pop of ‘Check My Heart’. Like the rest of the album, it proves that The Pastels, a snapshot of a bygone era, have negotiated their return with style and grace.