Judging by the album art, the Pink Mountaintops Outside Love is not really a platter of of music, but a novel written by Professor McBean from the University of Vancouver. Stephen McBean may be the auteur, but music-making, unlike novel-writing, is a collaborative act (unless, of course, you’re Prince), and he seems to have recruited half the musicians in Canada to assist him. These include, of course, his Black Mountain brethren, but also the likes of Sophie Trudeau (from various bands in Montreal.) Even the New Pornographer’s Kathryn Calder shows up in the choir.
It’s interesting McBean’s eye for talent would wander to Montreal, given the expansiveness of the sound here, the cathedral space and Spector-esque density, which could put one in mind of the Arcade Fire. Maybe the best way to think of this is McBean’s authorial sensibility has brought him to construct a number of short stories, harkening to the masters (Bowie’s “Heroes” being a template for “Axis: Thrones of Love,” The Velvet Underground’s entire clanging, thumping oeuvre the template for Outside Love‘s only outright rocker, “The Gayest of Sunbeams.” He may as well be quoting from masters of the short form, like Raymond Carver and Donald Barthelme.)
It’s hard to know how this fits into the McBean cannon. Here’s a guy whose Black Mountain’s most recent incarnation was brilliant early Pyschedelic Metal, and whose “Behind The Fall” is the single greatest evocation of NoWave ever — at least by someone who wasn’t there. And here on “Holiday,” he sounds like he’s happy to play in a Mekons country dance around the campfire. “And I Thank You” would not sound out of place on a Wilco album. As an author, he stretches. Previous outings by the Pink Mountaintops have been the faster counterpart to Black Mountain. This one heads out in multiple new directions, but at mostly a slow pace. It is, in places, very beautiful, which is not a description often invoked when talking about Black Mountain or Pink Mountaintops (“thrilling” and “heavy” probably having the boldest print in a word cloud.). It’s pretty likely the next Black Mountain album will confound us all, because this author has so much talent, he can write anything, comedy or tragedy, and rock’n’roll in any of its many incarnations.