Pink Mountaintops’ previous release, the rather lo-fi Axis of Evol, felt a bit like Stephen McBean‘s tossed-off side project, but Outside Love sounds much more fully developed, reaching heights every bit as breathtaking as his main band, Black Mountain. The group zigzags through a few disparate styles here, but these changes in trajectory are smoothed into a cohesive whole by the haze of sleepy psychedelia that pervades throughout. They channel barroom country & western on “And I Thank You,” while McBean‘s stunning duet with guest vocalist Jesse Sykes on the title track evokes the haunted, glacial slowcore sound of Low. She’s actually one of several enchanting female voices that saddle up with his to create the album’s consistently expansive, layered vocals, which fit perfectly alongside the Phil Spector-esque roar of reverb and saturation that frequently emerges. The feedback-laden production is also reminiscent of the Magnetic Fields‘ 2008 foray into Jesus and Mary Chain terrain, especially on the rollicking “Execution,” which pits a rousing melody against sheets of white noise. To accompany the immensity of the sound, melodramatic themes concerning dying for love, living on the edge of desolation, and “angels burning in sin and flame” populate the songs, with the always first-person narration generally reveling in its own destruction. On the other hand, tracks like the harmonica-laden “Holiday” and album finale “Closer to Heaven” sound lyrically ebullient — at least until you realize that it’s only a product of their desperation. For all the drama, though, there’s a remarkable sense of grandeur in this material, which comes from a mixture of blissful melodies and deliberate pacing. Album highlight “Vampire,” for instance, is downright spine-tingling in its majestic build from a sparse beginning to a soaring coda, concluding with a rousing proclamation of “You can suck out the blood/But you can’t kill the heart of my love.” What makes Outside Love most compelling is that grim sort of optimism, delivered through a well-crafted sound that is as sedated as it is passionate, and simple as it is profound. Mint.
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