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Pink Mountaintops - Outside Love

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Artist: Pink Mountaintops

Album: Outside Love

Label: Jagjaguwar

Review date: May. 4, 2009

Last time out, reviewing Pink Mountaintops’ Axis of Evol, Dusted’s Emerson Dameron described a much improved, more consistent effort, “the first record [Stephen McBean has] made that can be heard front-to-back, repeatedly, without losing most of its shine.” Outside Love, two years later, is another solid effort with a handful of quite good songs – and only a few embarrassing ones. It’s also the record that lifts McBean’s lo-fi Black Mountain side project out of its home-recorded, self-referential box. A good half of these songs are fully, even elaborately arranged, with big booming drums, piano, strings and backup singers.

For this album, McBean has brought in a seven-person backing band, including vocalists Sophie Trudeau (of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra, Evangelista and various other projects) and Ashley Webber (a recently Bonnie Prince Billy collaborator), Destroyer pianist Ted Bois, Keith Parry on drums, Canadian all-purpose backing guy Tolan McNeil (who has played Neko Case, Carolyn Mark, Frog Eyes and others), Joshua Wells and Josh Stevens. There are also 11 other musicians who make one-off contributions, including a four-person all female choir. Pink Mountaintops may still be lo-fi, but it is in no longer fragile, minimal or solipsistic.

The album’s Danielle Steele cover art hints that McBean is still preoccupied with love, not the blatant sexuality of the debut, or the spiritually subliminated variety of Axis of Evol. Instead, his view of the great mating dance seems to have turned jaundiced, shadowed by mortality and not quite sure of success. Opener “Axis: Thrones of Love” asks the age-old question, “How deep is your love?” and answers “Mine was cheap and made of plastic / and full of holes to stick fingers.” (What would the BeeGees say?)

The next song, “Execution,” looks for connection only after death, in the repeated “Rotten fingers hold my hand / promise me that in the end / we will find true love again.” The love-equals-death equation takes its most extreme (and silliest) form in “Vampire,” where McBean avers, “You can suck out the blood / But you can’t kill the heart of my love.” As a metaphor, it’s best not to think about this one too hard. (Wouldn’t sucking out the blood, in fact, kill most hearts?) But as a come on, it’s even worse.

“Vampire” is just one of many mood-killers on Outside Love. Musically, though, the songs have a certain sweep and grandeur that more than makes up for lyrical malapropos. “Axis: Thrones of Love” is probably the best ‘big canvas’ anthem here, though twitchy, strum-happy “Gayest of Sunbeams,” near the end, has a Robert Pollard-ish, raucous appeal. The eerily atmospheric title track wraps melodramatic imagery (“Angels burning in sin and flame”) in ghostly campfire smoke, for a kind of dream-like mysticism. And disc-finishing “Closer to Heaven” with its codeine-syrupy slide guitar and violins is reminiscent of the Psychedelic Furs.

Outside Love’s large cast of musicians can seem out of place performing McBean’s cracked, personal visions of sex and death. Weaker songs (“Holiday”, “Come Down”) may sink under the weight of more elaborate arrangements, but the better ones (“Axis”, “Executioner”, “Gayest of Sunbeams”) derive resonance from an extended palette.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Pink Mountaintops

Axis of Evol

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View all articles by Jennifer Kelly

Find out more about Jagjaguwar

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