If Stephen McBean’s Black Mountain are the loveable hippie friend we all had in college, it could be argued that his side project, Pink Mountaintops, are his foil: the understated sensitive indie guy in the denim jacket with the ridiculously intense love life who, surprisingly, likes all the ‘right’ bands (and some of the wrong ones). Only with their third offering, Outside Love, Pink Mountaintops appear to be coming out on top and sticking one to their better-known mother band (and that crunchy hippie).
As usual, McBean has cobbled together an exhaustive guestlist of North American indie royalty, including members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Organ and Sunn O))), and, in the tradition of Canadian musical collectives, has managed to keep it both cohesive and epic. He is talking about the ‘L’ word, after all. And speaking of Canadian musical collectives, one can’t help noting that opening track ‘Axis: Thrones of Love’ has more than a touch of the Arcade Fires about it (Life affirming refrain? Check. Airy female backing vocals? Check. Plaintive yet hopeful string section? Check!). Second track ‘Execution’ continues in a similar vein, but it’s the fragile ‘While We Were Dreaming’ and mournful ‘Vampire’ that prove McBean’s worth as a writer of genuinely affecting love songs, the latter in particular, which descends into a joyous, string soaked singalong (and who can’t be touched by a lyric like “You can suck out the blood/But you can’t kill the heart of my love“?). Similarly, final track ‘Closer to Heaven’ is the most poignant love song The Frames have never written but with added melancholic alt-country flourishes.
The title track is a dense soundscape of fuzziness and intermingling vocals, resplendent in religious imagery, and touchingly hymn-like, and ‘Holiday’ is Peter, Bjorn and John in pastoral stoner mode. The only real low point (if any) is when the fuzzy, retro-tinged ‘The Gayest Of Sunbeams’ descends into painting-by-numbers classic-rock influenced indie. Unfortunately, McBean’s reputation for purveying a very specific type of at-times ballsy psychedelia probably will ensure Outside Love‘s undeserved place as hidden gem of 2009, which is the saddest truth of all.