Pastels and Tenniscoats | DNO221
Over the last decade, The Pastels have brokered a particularly fruitful relationship with the underground pop music coming out of Japan. Their label, Geographic, released compendiums from ‘architects of error’ Maher Shalal Hash Baz, nostalgic psych-folk act Nagisa Ni te, and inter-continental dandy Kama Aina; they’ve played in the always-revolving Maher line-up, and Two Sunsets contributor Bill Wells has recorded two wonderful albums with Maher as well (the latest of which, Gok, was released on Geographic). Two Sunsets, by The Pastels and Japanese pop duo Tenniscoats, thus feels like an absolutely natural development. Both groups have a history of inspired collaboration – Tenniscoats recently recording with Secai and with Tape, both Saya and Takashi Ueno taking part in countless one-off projects and being part-time members of Maher Shalal Hash Baz, and The Pastels of course releasing records with Al Larsen of Some Velvet Sidewalk (as Sandy Dirt), Jarvis Cocker (as The Nu-Forest) and Jad Fair (as, um, Jad Fair And The Pastels).
‘The idea of us recording together came from Tenniscoats,’ Stephen McRobbie recalls. ‘They suggested they would like to record with us at the end of a Scottish tour in 2006. I know we were excited but maybe wondering if they meant some kind of completely improvised session. But it turned out Tenniscoats already had a song, Two Sunsets, which they wanted to record with us and another, slightly more abstract piece called Welcome To The Sea which was also beautiful.’ Two Sunsets thus took shape across several years’ worth of collaboration, involving recording with Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), and several sessions with Bal Cooke (who helped with The Pastels’ soundtrack from 2002, The Last Great Wilderness), which McRobbie remembers as ‘sunny and productive, we were never stuck.’
The result is an exceptional set of twelve songs that somehow simultaneously capture the first flower of the collaborative effort and all of its attendant excitement, and a confidence that only comes from artists who are at the top of their craft. Strikingly, the album manifests the elements at their most evocative – from the overarching theme of ‘duality’, and gentle grandeur of Two Sunsets, through the aquatic logic of Boats and Start Slowly So We Sound Like A Loch, the dizzy sweetness of Mou Mou Rainbow’s index of colour, to the autumnal glory of their cover of the Jesus And Mary Chain’s About You. (Or there’s Yomigaeru - ‘Saya asked Tom [Crossley, of International Airport] to play some flute to sound like cherry blossom falling from the tree,’ Katrina Mitchell says, ‘and Tom seemed to play exactly that.’) It sounds radiant, full of life and charm. ‘I think Saya described the music as something like Pastels underneath, sounding beautiful like a big cloud,’ McRobbie smiles, ‘with Tenniscoats flying over.’
Elsewhere, the Pastels crew take control for Vivid Youth, which reminds of Orange Juice at their most soul-reverent, naturally stylish and possessing a wonderfully assured, yet unassuming gait; Boats, originally intended for the next Pastels album ‘proper’, builds on the pacific wisdom and quiet drama of both their 1997 masterpiece Illumination and Tenniscoats’ lovely Ending Theme. The entire album is flecked with detail, with windmills of woodwind winding through Vivid Youth, buzzing organ skating over the clicking tock of the drums in About You, the Oliver Postgate reveries sounded by the flute that wanders through Hikoki, or the Fripp-esque reels of guitar delay trailing off amongst the title song’s dying embers.
Two Sunsets, then, posts pop as a series of experiences, from the fleeting to the rapturous, from the hypnotic to the transcendent. It’s casual, intimate, and generous. It’s also communal – alongside Tenniscoats’ Saya and Ueno, and Pastels hardcore Stephen McRobbie and Katrina Mitchell, permanent and occasional guests like Gerard Love, Alison Mitchell and Bill Wells appear, and Sodane is co-written with Maher Shalal Hash Baz’s Reiko Kudo. Most of all, though, I love that this record sounds lived, moulded by human hands, not done by ‘committee’. Like everything else both groups have been involved with, it’s very natural and unforced, and warm and humble, in its own brave, exploratory way.
Jon Dale, Melbourne, Australia, June 2009