Written By: Giovan Alonzi
As a goof, or jest, or in some sort of lampooning of something conventional—you, me, a “rock band,” a “main musical project”—Pink Mountaintops (often considered Stephen McBean’s side project next to Black Mountain) has not failed to, yet again, crank out a work of indulgence. Not indulgent like Dragon Force, or a math rock band, or that “noise band you’ve always wanted to destroy music with.” No, Pink Mountaintops’ indulgence lands inside something giant and wet and poppy. Take, for instance, the melting croon that opens, Sixteen:
As the people stood around and stared / we were racing passed the walls / outside the bars of innocence / we could steal it all
This album is a wild toboggan run of nostalgia. Reminiscent, fictitious, almost like a memoir, recounting days gone by…this is the essence of indulgence. Of course, one can’t disregard the album’s extensive instrumental arrangements—from pianos in Sell Your Soul, to church bells in Through All The Worry, to cavernous tom-tom fills in Ambulance City, a cowbell as demanding as The Bruce Dickinson in Teenage Mutilation and guitar leads in Shakedown and Second Summer of Love as stimulating as they are meditative—and while the arsenal of strings and musical metal verges on an indulgently produced sound, it becomes clear, by the end, or beginning, or really at any point, that Get Back‘s indulgence isn’t being betrayed by impressive sounds. No, it’s something else; an anchored sympathy—something tired and but ever-invigorating—has clearly been steeping in decades of reverb and whimsy…
Now 5 years after the PM’s last album, Outside Love (2009), Get Back seems, at least to me, to start where Outside Love ended (listen: The Gayest of Sunbeams), sounding upbeat and attractive. No, not attractive like ‘all of our first-time’s are running out, let’s just fucking do this thing.’ No, not like that, no, no…or yes? Anyways, Get Back’s foundational nostalgic sound is calmly beckoned for using a steady rhythmic clip, chunky riffs and McBean’s mirthful recollection of his past. It’s like looking at a beautiful sky after you’ve decided that the beautiful sky has no place for you.
Jordannah Elizabeth and I met up with McBean before Pink Mountaintops played The Chapel in San Francisco with Giant Drag on May 28th, 2014. I couldn’t help but ask him about North Hollywood Microwaves, a track that has garnered a lot of attention for its role as “the token rap song.” It was of no surprise to me that his description of the song landed directly on the part of my soul that this entire album has been politely gnawing on for the past week. I need say no more:
Stephen McBean: It’s one of those songs where it’s the end of the night, I have the riff, and we’re like ‘ok, well lets just try this riff and jam on it.’ So we jammed on it and Joe was like, ‘John Wall from Claw Hammers, he can play some sax.’ So he played some sax on it. I wrote some lyrics. And I’d already heard a bunch of Annie’s rap stuff. It sounds like, maybe like The Contortions meets maybe early Sonic Youth and some weird stuff. She did a steam of consciousness rap about, pretty much, cum. I described the song to her; I told her it was a about a fictional female gang from North Hollywood. It’s kind of based on a little story from when I was a kid. Joe was like, “you can tell her whatever it’s about. She’s going to rap about cum.” And then it was done. I like that it gets a reaction. I find it funny that Pitchfork…that a man finds it sexist that a woman is rapping about cum. I mean, he doesn’t have to like it, but read the lyrics. I put it on because it reminded me of where I’m from, Victoria B.C., where I grew up being a little punk kid. It kind of reminded me of that time when people did things where they were like, ‘oh, here’s our funk part.’ People in the 80’s hadn’t amalgamated the, like, “oh, we’re playing strictly Swedish–psych.’ Or, all those classic bands…Pentagram and all those bands. It hadn’t been rediscovered. So, you’d be in a punk band and be like, ‘here’s our ska breakdown. Here’s our little rap part.’ It reminded me of that. It was hardly us trying to be edgy [laughs] basically, it’s more like that’s–just–what–happened.
Giovan Alonzi: The album’s called Get Back. Maybe an attempt to get back to punk? Even the title of the album is scrawled onto the image like an 80’s punk album.
SM: Yeah, I mean, for the cover I was able to try to remember my 80’s thrash metal font…you know, it’s all fun and games. For people to write about music I find it funny…sometimes they’ll be like, ‘this is the best thing that’s ever happened!’ Sometimes they’re like ‘McBean is a pompous asshole.’ I’m just a drunk [laughs]. The only thing that ever bugs me is when someone deems something a terrible lyric after they’ve misquoted it. If they quote it right, then sure, it’s terrible. It’s just rock n’ roll; it should be fun. There’s probably some of that on this. Trying to take the preciousness of the song writing a bit. I think song writers chase that, you chase…the masters, like Townes Van Zandt. Towns Van Zandt probably wrote waiting around to die in a second, high on speed, drunk out of his mind. I don’t know, maybe he didn’t. It’s just fun. Who gives a shit.
GA: The video for “Ambulance City” has a really apathetic vibe to it. You’re all playing…it’s like a home-movie and you all look like you don’t care.
SM: VHS…yeah. I liked that stuff when I was a kid. When I was a kid, The Jesus And Mary Chain came on the local TV show and they’d be like, ‘Ueh…Ueh…S’got two strings.’ And then they’d play a video of them just standing there, not moving. But then again, Iggy Pop can go fly everywhere over the stage. As long as it’s real, it’s cool. I just don’t like HD. Who wants to see their face in HD? I like the saturation of VHS.