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Pastels / Tenniscoats
Two Sunsets Robert Barry , September 15th, 2009 10:25

"Don't think of us as an indie band," plead the Pastels, C86 survivors and fey heroes of the Glasgow scene. And perhaps they are right. Since 1997's Illumination, their guitars have not so much jangled as drifted; their lyrics have spoken less of innocence than of wry experience. There seems to be a widespread desire to disassociate oneself from the term 'indie' these days.

Over the last year, lynch mobs crying "Landfill indie!" have paraded through the Sunday supplements as Radio 1 shifted its focus from boys with guitars and skinny jeans to girls with synthesizers and curious hairdos. Meanwhile, a certain kind of indie seems to be having something of a quiet renaissance. A certain kind of indie, that is, that calls itself 'indie pop', or even, perhaps controversially, 'twee'. Are the Pastels 'twee'? To the proselyte of the latest underground dance craze, their instrumentation may seem quaint, even affectedly so; but 1998's remix album, Illuminati, and 2003's soundtrack to The Last Great Wilderness, both showed that they bear no luddite fear of technology. Their songs have a disarming simplicity, even as their arrangements become increasingly complex. And if one receives an overall impression of niceness, homeliness or friendliness, from their music, must we really hold that against them?

Is there anything so wrong, after all, with being an indie band? If, as Simon Reynolds asserts, the term cannot be trusted as an indicator of material independence, how might we go about redefining the beleagured genre: ferreting out, from amongst its formal, rather than merely fiscal, properties, those redeeming features we may wish to reclaim and proudly trumpet? Between bands at a show at Highbury's Buffalo Bar the other week, the DJ put on a particularly awful sounding cover of the Carole King and Gerry Goffin penned pop masterpiece, 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow'. 'Who covered this? It sounds dreadful,' I turned to a friend. 'Oh, I'm just listening to the song,' my friend replied. This response is quite typical.

For indie pop may be said — quite uniquely in modern music — to privilege the song above all else. While fans of other genres may love their bands for their style or their attitude, their sounds or their beats, their musicianship or their integrity, indie kids may be alone in caring scarcely a jot for anything but the song itself; the song qua song. Who cares if the singer can't sing, or the drummer's a little sloppy, or the guitarist looks like he bought his guitar for tuppence ha'penny (and sounds like he was ripped off)? Just listen to the songs. We might see something democratic at work here — extending the pop franchise even to those who lacked sufficient confidence for punk. Attendant on this, elements such as sound, orchestration, recording technique, tend towards the rough-hewn and sketched in. This sense of unfinishedness in the sound of the records cannot help but draw the listener in, inviting them to fill in the blanks with their own imagination — thus conjuring, around this kernel of the real album, myriad virtual albums, multiplying into infinity. Indie pop, it turns out, is a cool medium.

One could be forgiven for thinking that, like Days of Future Passed by The Moody Blues, Two Sunsets had been deliberately structured around the course of a day. The opening dawn chorus of 'Tokyo Glasgow' stretches out its arms and limbs; 'Two Sunsets' marks the first tentative steps out of bed, padding about in slippers, blinking at the brightness; the machinic propulsion of 'Vivid Youth' sounds like a journey, commuting into work on the train perhaps, trying to shut out the noise of fellow passengers and sinking into the rhythm of wheels and pistons; we finally snuggle up in the warm embrace of 'Start Slowly So We Sound Like a Loch'.

The passing of time seems to be one of the record's principal concerns. There's an abundance of time-based effects: reverb, delay; at times, tempos seem to swell and throb, surging a little faster here, relaxing into a steadier pace there, as if to evoke a different sense of the passing of time — a kind of Bergsonian duration, perhaps, as opposed to the digitised monotony of clock time. One feels, almost immediately upon pressing play, the warmth of a halcyon glow. Vague memories of children's television theme tunes, the fuzzy felt folk beloved of Johnny Trunk, snatches of old library music, are channelled through chime bars and summoned by the snaking of flute lines. "Thoughts of you come back to me," sings Stephen wistfully; "Shadows are our memories."