This album is a collaboration between first-wave ‘twee’ and veteran ‘C86′ Glaswegian indie-poppers The Pastels and Japanese avant garde, psychedelic and folk duo Tenniscoats. Recorded around Tenniscoats’ recording schedule over the last few years, the Tenniscoats pair (Saya and Takashi Ueno) and Stephen, Katrina and Gerard Love (the latter also a member of Teenage Fanclub) of the Pastels make up the core team of performers, with others (including the Fannies’ Norman Blake) bobbing in and out as necessary.
Something of the ad-hoc nature of the collaboration does filter through onto the finished recording. Rather than a convincingly cohesive whole, it is always evident that the album has been put together by different musicians at different times. Several tracks come off as a little directionless (Hikoki, Start Slowly So We Sound Like a Loch), and the regular switch between vocalists, accents and languages (male/female, English/Japanese language, Scottish accent) can be disorientating.
Much of the time though, the atmosphere is appealingly just-this-side-of-shambolic, as with the best Pastels moments over the years. There’s Stephen Pastel’s wobbly singing on Song For A Friend, contrasting nicely with Saya’s much purer, sweeter vocal on the same track, in a cute kind of call-and-response. There are the glockenspiels on Modesty Piece. And then the amiably perky cover of The Jesus And Mary Chain‘s About You in its entirety.
Also upbeat and cheerful are Yomigaeru, and Sodane; the latter a sweet, uncomplicated little pop song. But a larger number of the tracks have a feeling of wistfulness, or a placid quality that can sometimes tip over into a tranquil, reflective sort of sadness, far away from the bitterness of wrath or ire.
Tokyo Glasgow, Two Sunsets, Song For A Friend, About You, Mou Mou Rainbow and Start Slowly… all have this quality, to varying degrees, with the mellow, regretful Song For A Friend standing out as one of the album’s highlights, and the soft backing “oohs” and “aahs” and twinkling instrumentation of the first two tracks also succeeding in producing something that is at times gently sublime.
Many moments of beauty are created, or certainly enhanced by some gorgeous woodwind accompaniment, present pretty much throughout, but particularly effectively used on Hikoki, for example, and especially on Start Slowly…, also notable for featuring some great accordion bits. Elsewhere, laconic brass wends its way through Song For A Friend, and the odd pan pipe even makes an appearance on Modesty Piece.
Less enjoyable are the points where shambolic and laid-back tip over into frustratingly limp. Chief culprits here are the lounge-lite of Vivid Youth (released as one half of the AA-side single, along with the much better Two Sunsets), all breathy vocals, easy-listening guitar sheen and frustrating lack of bite or centre; the weak Boats, and the unfocussed, ephemeral Hikoki. There are also two instrumental tracks, Tokyo Glasgow and Modesty Piece which, while reasonably pleasant interludes, don’t feel essential.
But mainly this is a likeable amble of a release. Sure, it is unfocussed and diffuse in places, but it still succeeds in deploying the several and varied voices of its collaborating creators to produce something that ultimately just about hangs together with a valiant, if tattered sort of coherence. As gentle background music to a sunset in Glasgow or indeed in Tokyo, shot through with moments of melancholy and moments of bliss, one could do far worse.