The third album by Pink Mountaintops, a.k.a. Stephen McBean, was influenced by weddings in Montreal, winter, Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut", Christmas albums, the Bermuda Triangle, a song by Exile, a song by Echo And The Bunnymen, being depressed in the sunshine, The Everly Brothers, clowns in the ceilings, and bedrooms where skinheads used to live. A veteran of the Vancouver/Victoria punk rock scene, McBean is best known for his contributions to acclaimed rock band Black Mountain as principal songwriter, guitarist, and co-vocalist. Contributors on this release include members of Destroyer, Jesse Sykes And The Sweet Hereafter, Jackie O Motherfucker, The Organ, Black Mountain, and more.
Vancouver's Stephen McBean may be better known as the principal songwriter and frontman for the gritty psych outfit Black Mountain, but he also leads that group's gentler counterpart, Pink Mountaintops. Though Pink Mountaintops was originally conceived as a solo project, McBean clearly thrives in a collaborative environment. The project's third album, Outside Love, features input from an impressive cast of indie rock staples such as Sophie Trudeau of Godspeed You! Black Emperor/A Silver Mt. Zion, the Sweet Hereafter's Jesse Sykes, Josh Stevenson of Jackie O Motherfucker, and his longtime creative collaborator, Amber Webber of Black Mountain and Lightning Dust.
Although Pink Mountaintops were temporarily put on the back burner after the success of Black Mountain's self-titled sophomore album in 2005, McBean resurrected the group the following year with the release of Axis of Evol, on which he continued to explore his deep-rooted love of dark psychedelia with minimalist rhythmic patterns and spidery, hazy, lo-fi guitar. With Outside Love, McBean takes this theme on an adventurous journey to surprising heights, and the fully realized sound allows his ideas more room to breathe. The granular spaciousness of the production, when paired with intentionally sloppy drums and chiming guitars, imparts an atmospheric, almost gothic feel. This works beautifully on the Mazzy Star-esque "While You Were Dreaming" and on the outstanding opening track, "Axis: Thrones of Love", which expands with lackadaisical smokiness as a rinse of reverb settles like morning mist over the male-female co-sung chorus.
Despite the cloudy threads that crisscross through every song, Outside Love throws out some supremely positive vibes. On "Holiday", McBean declares that everyone he knows deserves a vacation in the sun "until the lions are off of their backs", and "The Gayest of Sunbeams" is a shambolic, joyous romp built on uptempo chord shifts and group vocals that burn with enthusiasm. But it takes multiple listens to uncover the complexity of Outside Love; despite its deceptively simple architecture, it's grounded by rich stylistic flickering. The folky ambiance of "And I Thank You" could have slipped out of Bill Callahan's back catalogue, while the string section that hangs in the background of "Vampire" has a discreet but haunting presence, like cobwebs diffusing light through a window. This kind of agile songwriting shows that Pink Mountaintops' substance lies not only in what they show, but in what they choose to hide; here on Outside Love, they move between shadows and light until the form is revealed.
— Mia Clarke, May 4, 2009