Album Review: Pink Mountaintops – Get Back

pink-mountaintops-get-backAs we approach Austin’s 7th annual Psych Fest hosted by Austin psych-heads The Black Angels, we find a lineup up that stays true to its cosmic breadth.  From electronic button-smashing to four-piece outfits dripping in analog goodness, we find a venerable source of the most honest rock and roll the world has to offer.  Forming the same year as the Black Angels, Black Mountain and Stephen McBean have created a pseudo-collective of creative fellas and ladies in Vancouver that delve into the darker areas of experimental rock and roll.

McBean and his Pink Mountaintops’ fourth LP, Get Back, follows its own suggestion and falls into ten tracks of classic rock and roll numbers that garner comparisons to the Hold Steady, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, with a heavy dose of angular New Wave moments.  From the first track forth, we get our relentless fuzz fix; “Ambulance City” gives us downstroked guitar and echoed speak-singing snarls that popular indie bands like Broncho and the Parquet Courts are using as their bread and butter.  Yet, we get a deeper sense of psychedelia with Stephen McBean’s Pink Mountaintops.  His seminal Canadian psych rock mainstay, Black Mountain, has been carving their solid niche in the mountain of stoner-friendly psych jam-rock, but Pink Mountaintops is his opportunity to explore brevity without sacrificing craft.

Seven of the ten tracks clock in under four minutes, one is under three.  These joints are rolled tight and ready to go, and hooks abound throughout the album.  The Black Mountain/Stephen McBean clan tends to get labeled and categorized pretty quickly.  The Phoenix New Times says they “wear their influences on their sleeve.”  But McBean is in so many different bands; is he still looking?  Is he getting closer?  The scope of songwriting on Get Back is wide.  The album breathes its influences but runs its own race.  Looking at his career, McBean has written an incredible amount of songs to get to this point, and collaborated with almost as many players.  On this album we have: J Mascis (Dino Jr), Rob Barbato (Cass McCombs), Steve Kille (Dead Meadow, also playing Psych Fest), Daniel Allaire (Brian Jonestown Massacre, Cass McCombs), Gregg Foreman (Cat Power).

With that kind of dedication to his art, the question of influences becomes less crucial. When the artist attracts this lineup of support, he becomes a beacon and influence of artistic stature.  McBean is a powerhouse of psychedelic cosmic wonder with enough songwriting mojo to write a track like “Sixteen,” the seventh track on Get Back that clocks in at 2:45 and details classic teenage romance: “all we want tonight/is to fall in love beneath the midnight sky.”  This isn’t tired nostalgia; this is getting to the root of it all.  The rock and roll singer might not have it all figured it out.  They might even take refuge in their parents’ basements and show up late to work, but the way they sing suggests otherwise.

For forty-five glorious minutes, we are transported (drugs or not), to a different time and place, an escape that we seek to rid ourselves of the boredom and tediousness of life.  To live vicariously through these mystics who show up, rock it, and get in the van to do it tomorrow in another city.  To the audience member who bought a ticket three months in advance, Pink Mountaintops is “playing in Austin tonight.”  But what the audience member may not realize is that they played in Dallas last night, Houston tomorrow, and any number of cities before and after.  This is just another stop on the road. Fortunately, for us, we get to disappear for a blissed out hour as the band performs.  The press release for Get Back makes it pretty clear: “It starts with guitars, maybe, and ends with a stage-dive, or spit, or feedback.  Rock ‘n’ roll is drugs, is rebellion, is youth, is sex, is cosmic.  It’s wanting more than you have.” McBean is doing a damn good job of trying to give it to us.

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