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Pink Mountaintops - Axis of Evol

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Artist: Pink Mountaintops

Album: Axis of Evol

Label: Jagjaguwar

Review date: Mar. 2, 2006

When Stephen McBean plays with a band, it’s called Black Mountain. When he, uh… plays with himself, it’s called Pink Mountaintops. McBean has never placed a tangible premium on consistency.

Despite moments of brilliance, Black Mountain stumbles easily into asinine stoner-conclave indulgence. The jammy, hammy, wholly unoriginal hijinks stumble under the weight of their self-importance. And Pink Mountaintops, alongside “Can You Do That Dance?” and other fun throwbacks, often falls into lazily structured, thoughtlessly sexual throwaways. At their worst, they remind us of what we learned in the ’90s: Jokey indolence ain’t necessarily inspiration writ backward. Think of McBean’s output as the work of a good singles artist too late for his time, a natural hitmaker who insists on making uneven albums.

At least, until now. Axis of Evol may not be a great album. It remains prey to some of McBean’s obnoxious corner-cutting. But it is his most resolute outing to date, certainly the first record he’s made that can be heard front-to-back, repeatedly, without losing most of its shine.

On Axis, our hero trades in his horny candor and pastiche classicism for a dumb sort of spirituality. The last refuge for the scoundrel, perhaps, but swapping “baby” for “Jesus” turns out to be a smooth move in McBean’s case. He rejects FM rock nihilism wholesale on “Comas,” the opener, which frees him up to go a bit deeper afterward. Which he does, sporadically, as on the cryptic, hypnotic “Cold Criminals” and the stomp-‘round-the-campfire “Lord Let Us Shine.” He never sacrifices his core dumbness, but “Plastic Man You’re the Devil” and “How Can We Get Free,” at least from a safe distance, play like lonesome spirituals fit to justify the Will Oldham comparisons.

On balance, there’s still something undeniably silly about listening to stoner rock with a drum machine, and McBean remains more Canned Heat than Can. But he’s reached the point where he merits serious consideration in spite of his excesses, not just because of them.

By Emerson Dameron

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