It's getting harder and harder to hold on to the belief that pop music still matters in any real and tangible sense anymore. It has been commodified and homogenised to such an extent that it is barely recognisable as the beautiful, bittersweet art form it once was. It now exists as a stream of bits and bytes, flattened and compressed, songs reduced to mere files that sit on our laptops and computers in their thousands, some never to be listened to at all. Pop music is now more disposable than ever; the ease with which we can freely access and download music renders it almost valueless.
Listening to Slow Summits by The Pastels recalls a time when this was not always the case. The Pastels featured on the now legendary C86 cassette tape released in 1986 by the then powerfully influential British music weekly, the NME. The release of that cassette is often cited as the catalyst for the birth of indie pop as we know it -while this may be spurious, the bands that featured on that tape were all part of a fiercely independent scene that tried to recapture the DIY ethos of punk and had an idealistic commitment to the idea of pure pop, an ideal that pop music was worth cherishing.
Some twenty seven years on, The Pastels commitment to this vision of pure pop is as strong as ever and Slow Summits is a beautifully nostalgic realisation of that vision. Their music has retained a timeless charm and a childlike sense of wonder despite the passage of time. They have been accused in the past of sounding amateurish, fey and twee - those accusations are unlikely to go away with this release. At times, they make Belle and Sebastian sound like Metallica but their summery concoction of delightfully off-key vocals and jangly guitars make for an irresistibly gorgeous noise.
There are moments of pop heaven scattered across these nine tracks - 'Check My Heart' sounds like it could be a summer anthem with its bouncy, rhythm guitar and catchy melody. 'Kicking Leaves' features Katrina Mitchell on vocals, and a beautiful, keening violin melody that traces heart-shaped clouds in the sky while 'Summer Rain' captures that sense of fleeting, wistful romance that only the best pop music manages to evoke.
They are still singing about the awkward fumblings of young love, still yearning for a golden time when life seemed somehow better. But what gives this music its added poignancy is the knowledge that these golden times can never be recaptured, and now exist only as a distant, hazy memory.
There will undoubtedly be better albums in 2013, but as pop continues to devour itself, we need bands like The Pastels to remind us that pop music is something worth cherishing.
Review by Paul Page | Four Stars