When news of The Pastels' union with Japanese duo Tenniscoats broke, it seemed a tantalizing prospect. How would the part-improvised, decidedly avant-pop of singer Saya Ueno and her guitarist partner Takashi Ueno bed down with the more considered approach of Scots Stephen McRobbie and Katrina Mitchell? "Beautifully, like a big cloud," reported Saya Ueno, upon hearing the first fruits of the project.
Sensuous, meditative instrumental "Tokyo Glasgow" sets the tone; elsewhere, Saya's calming, charming vocal on the piano and harmonica-imbued title track could drop a prizefighter's guard. Any lyrical dividends paid by Saya's graduate degree in literature are difficult for the non-Japanese speaker to gauge, but on the airy, faux-naif "Sodane" and poised, intimate "Mou Mou Rainbow" there's something pleasantly disorientating about not being able to understand her. "Vivid Youth," which is sung by The Pastels' Katrina Mitchell, is another highlight, its mildly eccentric guitar twang and summery woodwind cementing the carefree, quietly questing mood. The record, undertaken at Tenniscoats' request after they toured Scotland in 2006, enjoys gentle, hands-on support from a number of players, including Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake and Gerard Love, pianist Bill Wells and flautist Tom Crossley of International Airport.
No one could accuse the Pastels of an ephemeral or opportunistic relationship with Japanese indie. For 10 years now, the Glasgow band has periodically released music by various leftfield Japanese acts on its own Geographic label, and there have been East-West collaborations in the past — most notably with Maher Shalal Hash Baz, whose floating line-up sometimes includes members of the Pastels. Set against that background, Two Sunsets (which evolved slowly over three years of intermittent sessions) is a logical and wholly pleasing development.