Released 2/12 via Run for Cover Records
Rating: 6/7 Stars
Aphasia is a condition defined by the inability to express or understand speech. A traumatic accident may cause a person to develop the disability. On Pinegrove’s RFC debut, Cardinal, lead singer and songwriter Evan Stephen Hall metaphorically bids farewell to aphasia, and takes steps towards clarity in his thoughts and expressions, citing “things go wrong sometimes, don’t let it freak you out” / “but if I don’t have you by me then I’ll go underground.”
This combination of dark optimism with introspective questioning is evident throughout Cardinal. The result is a tight, eight-song exploration of friendships and relationships, human connection, and self-affirmations, all tied together with jangling guitars, clever lyrics, and anthemic vocals.
Despite hailing from the East Coast and making their way through the New Jersey DIY scene, Pinegrove has a distinct drawl that separates from many of their label mates on Run For Cover. While comparisons to Uncle Tupelo / early Wilco are valid, their sound skates down a line that teeters heavily between modern folk and pop punk (a more appropriate comparison may be LIFTED-era Bright Eyes, with Hall’s vocals evoking a similar indie-esque twang to Conor Oberst). What differentiates Pinegrove from so many others is their ability to bridge these two genres so effortlessly. The aforementioned twang in Hall’s voice is more evident on softer, more reflective tracks like “Cadmium” and “Waveform,” which are offset by the bouncy guitar-riffs and ease of “Then Again.” Lyrical and tempo contrasts are frequent as well– on “Size of the Moon,” Hall’s emotional refrain “I don’t know what I’m afraid of” is just as much twang-y singalong as it is confessional breakdown.
Pinegrove’s music captures a unique moment in time. Hall puts into words the feeling of dissonance and disassociation with getting older and the effect it has on friendships and relationship. He manages to capture a sense of loneliness, as well as the desire for belonging and a feeling of comfort no better than on album opener “Old Friends,” and closer “New Friends.”
Heavy with nostalgia, “Old Friends,” is both deprecating and regretful (“maybe I got too caught up in my own shit / how every outcomes such a comedown”) and wise, as Hall realizes the imperative need to reach out to those who matter most (“I should call my parents when I think of them / should tell my friends when I love them”). Closing the album is “New Friends,” which was featured on Pinegrove’s fall 2015 compilation Everything so Far. It juxtaposes nearly perfectly, opening up with a sunny guitar riff but signifying more apathy than its album-opening counterpart, with Hall instead asking himself “what’s the worst that can happen?” and shrugging his shoulders while he tries to fall out of love.
Many of Hall’s lyrics question both himself and the relationships that he makes his way through. Few young bands are able to both encapsulate such heavy paradoxes; a deep nostalgia for the past and the people who embody it and a conflicting apathy for failed relationships. The “introspective partying” of Pinegrove is dynamic, both parts complex and witty, and a beautiful summation in navigating the complications of growing up and growing apart.