The Pastels: Slow Summits

The Pastels continue to generate the feeling among listeners that we share a special bond with the band, that they're whispering us secrets.

The Pastels

Slow Summits

Label: Domino
US Release Date: 2013-05-28
UK Release Date: 2013-05-27
Label website
Artist website

The Scottish group the Pastels is an integral piece of the indie-pop puzzle, influencing UK and American bands of the last couple decades, including some of the last few years. But they have always done a lot of different things at once, been more eclectic than their devotees perhaps. That was true from their start in the early '80s. They put cute melodies into rough, noisy detours. They have absolutely classic pop songs; "Nothing to Be Done", for example, is eternal. But each of their albums has true surprises and moments of warped energy.

Over time, the Pastels stretched their music out greatly; smoothed it over and prettied it up; turned their jagged non-conformist anthems into landscapes. Their 2003 instrumental soundtrack to the film The Last Great Wilderness and their 2009 collaborative LP with Japan's Tenniscoats, Two Sunsets, found them playing sun-dappled, delicately arranged atmospheric pop music; songs for daydreamers.

Slow Summits, their fifth proper (non-soundtrack, non-remix, non-collaboration) LP in 30 years, follows up on that sound and look, keeping it as the dominant style, while leaning a tiny bit more on rock 'n' roll form (in a Left Banke/Belle & Sebastian way, if those count as "rock").

The hushed opening track "Secret Music" is a melancholy but open-eyed walk through rain-soaked streets, listening to the colors of the traffic, sky and neon signs. "Can you hear secret music / secret lights / secret nights", the chorus goes. The song is directed towards someone who is absent, who the protagonist wishes was there. Yet the idea of "secret music" has power beyond the song's connection to its environment, and the feelings held therein. The Pastels generate the feeling among listeners that we share a special bond with the band, that they are ours.

Much of the album builds on this environmental angle and the in-your-head/intimacy of their approach. Songs connect places with people, smacking of secret rendezvous, whispers, romantic moments in memorable settings. There's a song set amidst "Summer Rain", and one about the colors of night-time ("Don't Wait"). "Kicking Leaves" paints quite an evocative picture, as the singer imagines various romantic scenes – "We're standing still / at the head of a hill / won't you kiss me?" In "The Wrong Light", lights and shadows are entwined with past experiences, with memories and the emotions related to them. These are personified memorably – "we are shadows of the night / we are missed / but we exist." It's a reminder again of the connection between their songs and cinema. At the very least they seem interested these days in the power of light, and related trickery.

The first single "Check My Heart" is the going-out-for-the-night, dressed-up face of all these inward feelings; its dance club and radio single, as it were. It's a shy song, like them all, but unafraid to dance with its heart on its sleeve. There's a real romantic optimism there, too, and in the album overall. The last track "Chin Up" rides the album out on such a note, with flutes and fingersnaps. Optimism here sounds pretty lonely though, too, even when she's entreating us to have energy, be kind and come to the dance. Throughout Slow Summits beauty and brightness are paired with someone’s absence. There's a perpetual disappointment held not far from the surface, but they sound like they've come to certain terms with it.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.