Pink Mountaintops Scales the Peaks and Valleys of Emotion on 'Peacock Pools'
Published May 05, 2022One of the last remaining rock 'n' roll mystics, Stephen McBean is the driving force behind Pink Mountaintops. Peacock Pools is the fifth album he has produced under that umbrella, the first since Get Back cracked the Polaris Music Prize long list in 2014, and the first to be released on Dave Matthews' ATO Records, which has quietly become a lightning rod for the universe's most cosmic rock over the last few years.
The band practically began as a joke. The name of Pink Mountaintops popped into McBean's head as it buzzed with ephedrine and Red Bull in an attempt to stay awake between shows on the final Jerk With a Bomb tour, and their self-titled debut from 2004 featured lewd tracks like "Sweet '69" and "I (Fuck) Mountains." Yet, the project quickly matured to provide a more introspective, folksy compliment to the psychedelic excesses of its monolithic sister band Black Mountain.
Formerly from British Columbia, McBean moved to a '50s rancher house in the Arcadia region of Northeast Los Angeles before recording Peacock Pools. Cozied up in his bedroom studio during the pandemic, with wild peacocks roaming around freely outside, he worked out demos that would eventually form the album, after a little outside help.
If Black Mountain is anything like Queens of the Stone Age, Pink Mountaintops is comparable to the Desert Sessions, with its sound stripped back and spiritually swayed by whoever happens to be around. While Get Back boasted contributions from the likes of J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.) and Annie Hardy (Giant Drag), a couple tracks from Peacock Pools were recorded live in L.A. with Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) and Dale Crover (Melvins).
Some familiar faces are still around. Drummer/pianist Joshua Wells was a long-time member of Black Mountain and its predecessor Jerk With a Bomb, so he was there at the genesis of the Pink Mountaintops. Analog synth wizard Jeremy Schmidt (Sinoia Caves) has played on almost everything Mountain-related so far as well. Produced by McBean himself and mixed by Dave "Rave" Ogilvie of Skinny Puppy fame, Peacock Pools additionally features esteemed session drummer Ryan Jewell and vocalists Emily Rose Epstein (Ty Segall) and Laena Myers-Ionita (Feels, Death Valley Girls), the latter of whom also contributes violin.
Several moments on Peacock Pools rank among the most emotionally resonant in McBean's monumental catalogue. Created with connection in mind, reaching out amidst the pandemic pause, the spectre of loss lingers throughout the album. "You Still Around?" breezes in like Sandro Perri trippin' on '70s AM radio, a neo-psychedelic tune with acoustic guitar, chimes and dreamy synths, yet mournful lyrics for friends no longer here.
Though the style harkens back to his thrash metal days in Mission of Christ with its wailing guitars and snarling vocals, "All This Death Is Killing Me" tributes one of McBean's best friends, while "Nikki Go Sudden" was written in memory of Nikki Sudden, the dearly departed co-founder of Swell Maps. There is no coming back for those gone, but the rest of us can move forward together, and carry their memories with us.
As grim as all that death talk that may sound, McBean and company clearly had a ton of fun making this album. "Shake the Dust" has a motoring White Stripes-meet-Primal Scream thing going on. It's a bad-ass driving space trucker song with massive, distorted '70s fuzz bomb guitar riffs and McBean rambling like Jim Morrison after a dose of brown acid. The little touches truly reveal the joy here. The janky little piano outro to "Nervous Breakdown" underscores the fragile mental state of its theme, putting the perfect button on the Black Flag cover.
At the end of "Swollen Maps," halfway through the album, a ludicrous falsetto voice like Tiny Tim tells the listener to flip sides. This is presumably for those who purchase the album on vinyl, and anyone who listens to Peacock Pools is likely to do just that for this is McBean at his best. (ATO Records)