Over forty years have passed since the debut single from guitar pop legends the Pastels. The epitome of underground cult status, counterculture archivist Sam Knee summarized the band as “bridging the gap from post-punk into the new ’80s indie era” in his book A Scene In Between, a visual encyclopedia of the era. Emerging from the era of the C86 cassette and hometown Orange Juice, the group is equally synonymous with the Glasgow-based music institutions they helped foster.
When the Pastels were tapped to write an original score for the dark comedy The Last Great Wilderness, the band was in the middle of a sixteen year hiatus between studio albums. With a film music project always in the group’s sights, director David Mackenzie had approached singer Stephen McRobbie through the Glasgow music scene, deliberately requesting the “Pastels vibe” for the movie. The overlooked soundtrack arrives as part of a slew of seminal reissues via Geographic (the Domino Records imprint started by McRobbie), including the hypnotically blissful Lightships record from Teenage Fanclub’s Gerard Love.
Formed in the early aughts around the same time as Wilderness, the influential Geographic is a microcosm of the band’s off-kilter independent spirit. The eclectically curated label was, for example, the first distributor of the Maher Shalal Hash Baz collective outside of Japan, lauded in McRobbie’s own words as a “mixture of naivety and real sophistication”. Like the Pastels influence on so many others in America and beyond, the chaotic yet whimsical Maher records would have an impact on the likes of David Berman, as revealed in a 2008 interview with AD.
Part of the beauty of the soundtrack is that the band doesn’t need to reach beyond their depths for cinematic flourishes. Rather, the mostly instrumental affair sounds like subtle, fragmentary pieces of the singular Pastels sensibility. Atmospheric exercises like “Flora’s Theme” might predict the airy, understated sequences that would go on to augment the band’s collaborative record with Japanese folk duo Tenniscoats.
With frequent collaborators like Gerard Love and Scottish composer Bill Wells contributing to the sessions, The Last Great Wilderness also delivers a twist or two when the signature jangle pop (and vocals) reemerge, per McKenzie’s original vision for the film. Vocalist Katrina Mitchell shines on a brilliant cover of Sly Stone single “Everybody Is a Star”, while Jarvis Cocker makes a left field cameo on the vocals of “I Picked a Flower”. Beaming with radiant and optimistic beauty, the score is yet another gem in the group’s sporadic (yet always quality) discography. | m neeley
The Pastels :: Everybody Is A Star
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