Lush sapphire blue velvet surrounds a hardcover book bearing the moniker of Stephen McBean’s formally solo, highly collaborative project, Pink Mountaintops. The album art recalls the opening sequence of “All My Children” or “The Young and the Restless” and its press release refers to the romance novels of Danielle Steele but Outside Love is anything but a sappy soap opera or overwrought romance. Rather McBean’s latest effort is adventurous, addictive surprising and an altogether awesome album.
Seconds into the first track, “Axis: Thrones of Love,” McBean and Ashley Webber ask, “how deep is your love?” With accompanying fuzzed tones and crystal clear piano chords, this ain’t the Bee Gees. Blissfully psychedelic (coming from someone who isn’t the biggest psychedelia fan), the song drones on as McBean and Webber sing in a lazy drawl that recalls Lou Reed and Nico. “Execution” one-ups that with sunny Spector-esque melodies, girl band harmonies and darkly romantic lyrics like “I would fight to stay your execution/ I would die to save your soul.” The sweet and sour mix and meld throughout the album, crafting melodies that are swoon-worthy but with lyrics that subvert typical songs of love and devotion. Yet the emotions are sincere and some of the songs are full of honest heartache. Mining the shoegaze romanticism of Mazzy Star, “While We Were Dreaming” features Ms. Webber sweetly singing lines like, “and if I could find your heart/ I would pull it from your chest/ and smash it with my fist ’til it was beating,” and it sounds like the most beautiful thing in the world.
Pink Mountaintops was originally meant to be a outlet for Stephen McBean’s non-Black Mountain musical leanings. Jumping off of Axis of Evol‘s fondness for dark psychedelia and spare rhythmic beats, Outside Love leaps for the brass ring if you will. The songs expand on McBean’s interests to surprising and beautiful heights – see the Dylan inflected “Holiday” – and rather than being a solo project, Outside Love and McBean thrive off of the collaborative atmosphere, creating fuller and more rewarding songs. Just as In the Future brought in crisper production values, Outside Love sounds more fully realized than previous Pink Mountaintop efforts, giving McBean’s ideas room to breathe and take shape. The result is a powerful, beautiful album that further reveals McBean’s deft talent as a songwriter and musical force.