It’s with some degree of personal satisfaction that I find myself holding a new album from pre-eminent outsider musician, independent artist, and librarian Stephen Pastel. As the leader of defiant Scottish misfits the Pastels from 1982 onwards, he played a huge part in defining the sound of postpunk alternative music as we currently know it, fashioning a catalog of fucking wondrous, shambolic, heartbreakingly sweet songs that influenced everyone from Belle and Sebastian to Primal Scream.
But Two Sunsets is miles away from the candy-apples-and-razorblades sounds that the Pastels perfected. It is a hazy smell of sweet grass in the afternoon kinda album, an album-length collaboration with Tokyo’s Tenniscoats. Born out of mutual admiration and excited promises to work together, the Tenniscoats and the core Pastels duo of Pastel and Katrina Mitchell met up at a Glasgow studio for several sessions of spontaneous recording augmented by various friends and Teenage Fanclubbers. The resultant album is a relaxed and quietly smiling collection of minimal ambient pop. All quiet, shimmering chord changes and breathy, whispered, duet-style vocals that can break your heart with the right consonant sound. Pastel’s voice is a thing of wonder, achingly out of tune, but still carefully harmonizing with Katrina or the female vocalists in the Tenniscoats. The instrumentation is so much more lush and harmonic than you would expect; horns and organs and pianos and flutes all melt together into a creamy whole. The songs shift between excitable buoyancy and dreamy almost-melancholy, with the ensemble never overplaying its hand into sugary sentimentality.
There’s a Jesus and Mary Chain cover in there too, as if things could get any better.