Stephen McBean is a haunted man; spirits and mysticism hide just beneath each hallowed howl and reverb-tainted riff. It is the stuff that spawned teenage rebellion for decades – loud and lethargic guitar work, heady subject matter, and ethereal intoxicants, all wrapped up in heaving rock-and-roll. Particularly poignant in his primary work as frontman and guitarist for Black Mountain, McBean’s softer side is equally lethal, played out in the glory of Pink Mountaintops’ third album, Outside Love.
Despite the part-time-job status, Pink Mountaintops is far from a part-time effort, and not vastly different than Black Mountain’s allegiance to ‘60s and ‘70s distortion-driven psychedelia. The major diversion is its non-linear approach, trading blistering drive for concentrated textures that emerge like fog at dusk on “Axis: Thrones of Love,” grind with carnivalesque organ on “Execution,” and drift from sprightly piano with plain-spoken ease on “And I Thank You.” Otherwise, McBean’s muse remains esoteric; vampires and demons visiting his compositions as frequently as mortals. However, this link to mythic dimensions is the sword upon which McBean occasionally falls, the looming lore playing out as kitsch on “The Gayest of Sunbeams” and the woozy title track.
There is no denying McBean’s ability and his impressive cadre of friends (the cast of Outside Love boasts appearances from his Black Mountain bandmates, as well as members of A Silver Mount Zion and Destroyer, among others), but the incredulous lyricism makes for comic book sincerity, or lack there-of. It is that illustrated ingenuity that elevates Pink Mountaintops to lofty heights in mythical lands where reality is simply a gateway drug that isn’t always easy to swallow, but is well worth the buzz.
Outside Love is out now on Jagjaguwar.