More and more, I find myself enjoying Black Mountain side projects more than the music emanating from the mother ship. Lightning Dust is a bewitching mix of dusty folk, Kate Bush madness and cheapo Casio wizardry while the more established Pink Mountaintops is a grandiose mix of Phil Spector lushness and choral wonder. With Outside Love, Mountaintops’ main man Stephen McBean — pictured on the back sleeve, poised on the edge of an armchair in a natty sweater and unruly hair, natch – has fused his usual love for star-crossed chamber pop balladry with a flair for the dramatic, thrift store Xmas records (check out the sleigh bells and overblown orchestrations), and Danielle Steel novels (though not nearly as obnoxious as the genuine article). Everything is bigger than life and louder than love on this album. The drums sound gigantic, the strings bypass the bother of tugging at heartstrings, seeming to be made of them instead, the keyboards and guitars are all composed of minor chords and grand gestures, McBean’s careful, raspy vocals are constantly followed by tuneful female backing vocals, choruses are packed with eminently tuneful lalalalas, and the whole thing is drowned in swells and crashes of reverb. The whole album shimmers magnificently, like a strange jewel.
At times the Moutaintops get too caught up in the gag, like when Andy Kaufman would send otherwise sympathetic audiences into homicidal rages. So yeah, occasionally it’s a little too big and too clever and syrupy.
Recommended for devotees of Phil Spector, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, the Walker Brothers, the Raveonettes’ recent Xmas Ep, and Spiritualized.