PASTELS / TENNISCOATS – “TWO SUNSETS” (DOMINO, 2009)

If you were in High School when CMJ’s C86 cassette came out you will love this album. If you were in High School when Belle and Sebastian’s Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like a Peasant you will love this. If you have an ear for woozy, fragile-as-an-eggshell pop melodies centered around jangley guitar lines and sing-song male/female vocals…So the cyclical nature of this review goes. Two Sunsets is a collaboration of legendary twee-pop all-stars The Pastels, who rival Sonic Youth for being the longest running, musically relevant band today, and likeminded Japanese duo the Tenniscoats. Two Sunsets is a major accomplishment for both Geographically challenged bands.

The collaboration started innocently enough. A simple studio exploration of two bands who shared a mutual admiration for each other. Fans who recognize and forgive The Pastels loquacious crawl towards a perfect album (this is their first proper release in 11 years!) shouldn’t be surprised that Tenniscoats took the Bull by its proverbial horns in this collaborative tag team. They also shouldn’t be surprised that this took 2 years to release. But what we have is definitely worth the wait.

Two Sunsets starts with a gentle instrumental track that pays homage to the two bands hometowns, “Tokyo Glasgow” and sounds exactly you would think a creative collaboration between the two capitols of mope-core pop and lullaby-core orchestral folk would sound like. Sort of like Daisuke Miyatani meets the Gentle Waves meets Teenage Fanclub. Fluttering minor-key piano lines dip in and out of a skeletal guitar and organ riff that serves as the back bone of the track while some muted trumpets and some unidentified woodwind (which makes numerous appearances on the album) drive the track along its Sunday afternoon canter.

A track-by-track tag team of Japanese and English vocals follow a linear path while Saya Takashi’s childlike lullaby compliments Katrina Mitchell’s velveteen coo. Stephen McRobbie and Teenage Fanclub’s Gerard Love’s restrained guitar lines weave a protective blanket of warmness over the entire recording. The most rewarding moments on Two Sunsets are when the unexpected flourishes, the “yeah that might sound cool” studio experimentation, take over the entire space between your headphones. For example, 70’s Spaghetti-Western harmonica and dulcimer compete for space over Gerard Love’s twinkling guitar lines in the last minute and a half of “Song for a Friend”. A really wonderful thing happens when you have to wonder when something was recorded.

Since we are on the topic of the most arresting song on the album, “Song for a Friend”, there is a moment when Stephen McRobbie’s heavily accented Glasgow croon replaces Saya Takashi’s tiny Japanese voice that takes my breath away. “Vivid Youth”, the first single off the album is a perfect accompaniment for watching sparks ascend and die out against the back drop of a starry summer night. Michell’s husky bedroom melody lilts gently over a bouncy bass line and sort of seventies T.V show jazzy guitar line. The only problem with this track is that it sounds the most like the Pastels. Where did you put those cute Tenniscoats? The great strengths about this record is that neither band really sound like themselves. Together in a collaborative embrace they take on each others signature characteristics and become a new entity all together. So when the Tenniscoats darling instrumentation and sing songy voices are gone, it is way too soon to call this a new Pastel’s record.

With a possible twee revival looming in the future -2009 has already been graced by releases by It Hugs Back, Vivian Girls and SLEEPOVER – Pastels/Tenniscoats take us back to time when “Indie” simply meant a straight ahead guitar rock band and to have “fragile” or “delicate” or even “cute” used as an adjective was both a patch of honor on your tweed jacket as well as insult hurled your way by punks with shaved heads. Ah, to be in 1986 again. Too bad I was only 2 when that happened.

Ryan H.

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