Archive for Pink Mountaintops

Pink Mountaintops’ “Get Back” Reveals More of Stephen McBean’s Multiple Personalities

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on May 1, 2014 by johnbuckley100

In the early years of Black Mountain and Pink Mountaintops, the meme developed that the latter band was an “alternative side” of Stephen McBean’s personality.  In retrospect, that’s a little hard to figure, or it is at least a little simplistic. Stephen McBean is such a protean figure that his constant alternatives to his last invocation could rapidly resemble a hall of mirrors.

And anyway, are the two bands, the two… aspects… of McBean’s songwriting, singing, and most excellent guitar playing, really so different? Let’s rewind to the beginning. Pink Mountaintops’ brilliant 2006 album Axis of Evol could easily be seen as coming from a similar sensibility as, say, Black Mountain circa its first record or the Druganaut E.P.  “Cold Criminals” sounded like it was the product of someone who’d spent a lot of time listening to Pere Ubu’s The Modern Dance, while “Bicycle Man” was steeped in the No Wave sound of New York circa ’78.  Are those different sides?  So far away from one another?  Not really.

To us, McBean has always been one of the great dabblers, an ambitious throwback who could in the span of two years record one of the best Velvet Underground-sounding songs — Pink Mountaintops’ “The Gayest of Sunbeams” — and one of our favorite invocations of Led Zeppelin — Black Mountain’s “The Hair Song.” The only people who split the difference between Zep and the Velvets while in the same rough phase of their careers are those who, as the lyrics to the great Black Mountain song “Voices” would have it, have come down with the same bug all of us at Tulip Frenzy are riddled with: “Rock’n’roll voices on the radio/I’ve been in love with you since I was five years old.” He loves it all: all those rock’n’roll voices: Lou’s, and Bowie’s, and Robert Plant’s, and often in harmony with a singer as great as Amber Weber, which brings us to such pairings as Exene and John Doe and Sonny and Cher.

While his shambling, hippy-era countenance might give off a hash and patchouli perfume, leading you to think of McBean as a slacker, and while the pace of releases since 2005’s eponymous Black Mountain album might not seem like he breaks a sweat, the sheer volume of not just good, but thoroughly excellent music McBean’s been responsible for over the last nine years is pretty remarkable.  If his interest was simply in being a rock star, he probably would have helped corral the Black Mountain Army to keep pushing through in support of Wilderness Heart, which caused a stir in 2010.  But instead the band put out some new songs on the Year Zero film soundtrack, toured a bit, and did not sustain the momentum.  It’s easily recaptured, they’ve built a good following.  But McBean’s not interested, it seems, in such straight forward careerism.

Enter Pink Mountaintops’ Get Back, in which with an imposing posse behind him — J. Mascis on guitar, Daniel Allaire from Brian Jonestown Massacre on drums, Rob Barbato of Darker My Love on bass, etc. — McBean invokes everything from Station to Station-era Bowie to “All Along The Watchtower.”  Ensconced in Los Angeles these days, McBean continues a Canadian-style assault on greatness: low-key, humorous, thoroughly competent.

We think “Ambulance City” may be the most infectious rocker out this year, which is saying something since John Dwyers’ Thee Oh Sees have already released an album.  “Through All The Worry” sounds like something you wish Social Distortion was still putting out.  “Wheels” is the “All Along The Watchtower” analogue, though obviously invoking the Hendrix version.  Whether that’s Mascis or McBean on lead, we don’t know, but it is like sonic dental floss, cleaning out the cavity between our ears. We can see the members of Crocodiles smiling when they hear “Sell Your Soul,” one of those songs that makes you remember how mid-70s Bowie was so influenced by early Springsteen, he borrowed Roy Bittan to play piano. “North Hollywood Microwaves” is Not Safe For Driving With Children Or Spouses, an hilarious novelty.  By the time we get to the closer, “The Last Dance,” we’ve returned to mid-’70s pre-punk, to the Station To Station sound with which the album began.  It’s an impressive, Rockist tour de force.

How Get Back ultimately fits into McBean’s canon is unknowable at this time.  What we know is that his multiple personalities are given full vent, and that a figure whose bands have called to mind Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, the Velvet Underground and Pere Ubu, and Bowie, always Bowie, is as well-rounded an artist as there exists today.  Selfishly, we can’t wait to see the set of characters McBean inhabits on the next slab of Black Mountain.

Pink Mountaintops “Ambulance City” Is Song Of The Year

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on April 26, 2014 by johnbuckley100

We have only to wait until Tuesday to get our mitts — our ears — our ear mitts? — on Pink Mountaintops’ Get Back.  But just from what’s been released so far, we know this is going to be one of the highlights of the year.  “Ambulance City” may be the finest rocker yet released by any unit of Stephen McBean’s Black Mountain Army — and represents a return of Pink Mountaintops to the upbeat rocking form present on 2006’s Axis of Evol, partly missing on 2009’s Outside Love.  Powered by Brian Jonestown Massacre nuclear instigator Daniel Allaire on drums, both “Ambulance City” and the hilarious “North Hollywood Microwaves” rock harder than anything we’ve yet heard from HQ-band Black Mountain, nor any of its lethal units, Blood Meridian, Lightning Dust, etc.  Tulip Frenzy thinks we will declare a holiday Tuesday, and just reach for our headphones.

The Pink Mountaintops’ “Outside Love”

Posted in Music with tags , , , on April 30, 2009 by johnbuckley100

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.

In Anticipation Of The Pink Mountaintops’ “Outside Love”

Posted in Music with tags , on April 24, 2009 by johnbuckley100

Leica M8, Summilux 50, Mount Moran seen from Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park.


Black Mountain Blows The Doors Off D.C.’s Rock and Roll Hotel

Posted in Music with tags , , on February 20, 2008 by johnbuckley100
  • Black Mountain is the rare band that is tighter live than in the studio.   Last night they came to D.C.’s Rock and Roll Hotel and had a volcanic eruption.  
  • Stephen McBean was a surprisingly low-key front man, given how dominant his singing is on both Black Mountain and sister-band Pink Mountaintops records, and he seemed more comfortable playing guitar back by the amps while Amber Webber held the center stage.  From the moment they struck up “Stormy High” from their new LP “In The Future,” it was clear that Black Mountain is one highly gelled unit, as tight as the Stones in ’69, more propulsive than Led Zeppelin, with greater psychedelic range than any of the San Francisco bands or even the “Ummagumma”-era Pink Floyd.  Yeah, I know the company I’m putting them in.  I don’t do it casually.
  • Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Matthew Camirand and Joshua Wells were riveted together, the most urgent rhythm section on God’s green Earth, at least since John Bonham slipped away.  After all, they’re the heart and soul of Blood Meridian, but that’s an alt-country band, for cryin’ out loud. Camirand finger picks a Gibson bass while Wells wallops his drum kit like John Henry besting the infernal machine.  Interestingly, on “Druganaut”–  which is a killer in both recorded versions, but last night was played at a looser, ever so slightly slower tempo — Wells plays the beat backwards, they way Charlie Watts plays reggae.  It was very subtle, and magnificent.
  • Amber Webber sings in a warbly ululation like a Yemeni widow at a funeral procession, but she basically just stands there, cool as a cucumber.  For a band so centered on call-and-response vocals — all kidding aside, Webber and McBean are not unlike Sly Stone and his sister going back and forth in “Dance to the Music” — she and McBean are exceptionally easy going.
  • McBean looks like he purposely is trying to scare young children, with his thick long hair and black beard, but he plays the guitar like a genie.  “That guitarist carried the band,” I heard some kids say on the street as we left the surprisingly Mudd Club-like Rock And Roll Hotel.  I disagree — the MVP for this outing, and I suspect others, is clearly Joshua Wells — but McBean’s at least on par with Dave Gilmour in being able to project a band like this into deep space.
  • In the review of “In The Future,” Tulip Frenzy earlier chided them for channeling Deep Purple, but Jeremy Schmidt’s keyboards pay as much of a debt to Pere Ubu’s Alan Ravenstine’s analog synth as they do to, say, Keith Emerson.
  • The set was a surprisingly fast-paced sonic goo, never bogging down into vanilla fudge, even on the loooong songs.  “Stormy High” kicked off the set, and they played most of “In The Future,” before finishing up with a one-two punch of “Druganaut” and “No Satisfaction” from their first album.  I’m used to the campfire version of “No Satisfaction,” but this was pure punk rock. 
  • Under most circumstances, listening to a band invoke the early ’70s sound of pre-heavy metal psychedelia is not my idea of fun.  I’m kind of stunned that in 2008, the best real rock’n’roll around is being made by a band just this side of prog.  But it’s all true.  Black Mountain blew the doors off the Rock and Roll Hotel.
NPR helpfully aired the whole thing.  Want to hear what I’m talking about? Link here:

Black Mountain Goes Back To “In The Future”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on February 3, 2008 by johnbuckley100

Trying to describe Black Mountain’s music is like copywriting for one of those Ben and Jerry’s ice cream mash ups.  In some ways, it’s easier to imagine what peanut butter cups mushed with cherry pie might taste like than it is to get a handle on a band that can sound like Sly and Family Stone jamming with Black Sabbath.  Okay, they’ve got big, slow, gooey riffs, and when Stephen McBean and Amber Webber get that call and response thing going, you do indeed think of Sly calling out and Ozzy responding. But that was then — on their superb 2005 eponymous debut.  “In the Future” is more like a mashup of Deep Purple with the Human Switchboard, and I mean that as a compliment.### This is a heavy album, Ummagumma meets PJ Harvey.  I miss the light, Tom Herman-esque guitar playing of the first album, and it seems a step farther in the direction of darkness than the rosy alpenglow of their Pink Mountaintops sister band/offshoot.  It’s been a while since I’ve cheerfully signed up to listen to prog rock, as this often is.  ###  But when it’s good — when the Blood Meridian rhythm section of Joshua Wells (drums) and Matthew Camirand (bass) crank up the bottom, and Amber Weber’s voice soars, as it does on “Queens Will Play,” and Stephen McBean leads the incantation — these guys tower over the coastal fjords of British Columbia, casting their shadow on the entire Vancouver scene.   ### I miss the pure fun of “Druganaut,” and “No Satisfaction,” and “Bicycle Man” from their earlier work.  But I can’t get “In The Future” out of the rotation on my iPod.  This is more nourishing than a bowl full of Phish Food. 

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