It happened. After months of continued recommendations from friends that probably know what's best for me anyway, I've fallen deeply in love with Pinegrove.
With roots in Montclair, New Jersey, Pinegrove took shape after many years of collaboration between vocalist Evan Hall and brothers Nick and Zack Levine. Their parents actually played together and that's how they met. Dan Bogosian wrote a great piece on the band's history for Noisey, I recommend that for the facts behind Cardinal, the album I can't stop listening to.
I've been thinking about a phenomenon that grips me at least once a year after discovering a record I fall in love with. It's a feeling that means wholly embracing a work as it is and dissecting it part for part, often finding new meaning with each repeated listen. This isn't critical analysis from a writer's perspective. It's a highly emotional state that I'm calling "living in it."
I dove headfirst into music in 2004 with Fall Out Boy's From Under The Cork Tree, but that's common knowledge. More recent examples of records that have completely taken me over include Frank Oceans' Channel ORANGE, Old Best Friend's Living Alone, The 1975's I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It, The Hotelier's Home, Like Noplace Is There, and Noah Gundersen's Ledges. For most, these are great records by extraordinarily talented artists. For me, they are time capsules for my emotional state of mind—often guiding me through complex periods of my life. Moments where I'm not fully in control of my situation, but have a shot at controlling my perception of it. That's a part of living in it. Relating to the songwriter on a personal level through the lyrics while being moved by the sounds that carry them.
I admit that over the past three years I've listened to a lot less music than I did as an editor of a music publication. I find that I listen to a lot more music that has meaningful or nostalgic value to it than what could possibly be the next big thing. In a Venn diagram of the two, there is an overlap I've been missing out on. That's squarely where Pinegrove falls.
Cardinal begins with "Old Friends" which, more than anything, sets the scene for the story the album tells. What surprised me on my first listen through the record was the clear southern influence. I'm not sure exactly what I expected, something more conventionally emo perhaps, but surely not introspective indie rock laced with banjo and pedal steel. Coming from a home that valued country music radio as much as a refrigerator full of food or good health, I have an established bias towards "twang" that is generally unfavorable unless paired with something of a serious nature to balance it out. Swelling pedal steel does its part, but drudging up feelings of grief at a late friend's funeral evens it out fully. Track one blew my expectations away and opened me up in a way to properly receive the remaining 7 songs.
The ambling country influence continues in "Cadmium," but falls away for one of the most steady baselines I've heard. Naturally the song on this record which reminded me most of Old Best Friend happens to be Mike's favorite.
say what it is
it's so impossible
but i just say what it is
it tends to sublimate away
when i was looking to drop
my life away
The swell on the tail end as the refrain above plays out is surprisingly massive and highlights both the irregular and poetic structure of many Pinegrove tunes, but also the sheer talent behind the musicians collectively. They can really play.
"Then Again" is the song I wake up singing every morning, but "Aphasia" is the one that hits me when I least expect it. Maybe I should, it is thematically the heaviest song on Cardinal. Take what you will from it yourself, but equal parts unrequited love and the fear and apprehension of creating works of art burrow deep within my stomach leaving me unsettled. What I find most fascinating about songwriting such as this is the nostalgia for sad that comes along with it. I'm not in the place I was three years ago. Depression and a lack of motivation don't cripple me like they did before. Still, "Aphasia" hits every single one of those notes and there I am, back in my childhood bedroom after graduation—lonely and lost. There's a part of me that misses that. I grew in that sadness. The creative dry spell that I emerged from resulted in some of my favorite work to date. I wouldn't trade what I have now for any of the things I wanted then, but damn it if the feelings associated with those desires and disappointments don't still drive me still today.
Though the influence is a distinguishing factor that sets them apart from the bands they're packaged with on tour, Pinegrove isn't all country. That makes them hard to explain to everyone I've been trying to introduce to Cardinal for the past week. "Visiting" has a bright and frenetic energy in addition to the drawl—much more Runaway Brother than Alabama. In fact, "Waveform" is probably the most straightforward track on the record. Slow and steady, but as retrospective as the rest. I guess post-country is probably the best way to describe the sum of its parts. Evan Hall's vocal delivery isn't transcendent in any sort of fashion. It's above average in a way that does his lyrics the most justice. The cracks and stumbles accent just the right moments and allow the instrumentals to shine precisely when they should.
If I were to choose a song that most accurately encapsulates my fears at this moment, it would have to be "Size Of The Moon." Surprisingly to some perhaps, I'm far from perfect. I strive towards that impossible goal every day. However, like any resolution, there are lapses and moments of weakness. These sometimes result in arguments with loved ones that I don't want to have, but they happen. I'm not as in control of my emotions as I'd like to think I am. This song reminds me of that. It's also incredibly beautiful with absolutely perfect inflections.
so would you like that drink?
fine, yea i know. i remember that too
in your living room, right?
when we began to fight but then we both got confused
then we were laughing & crying in awe of the size of the moon
As it began, it so antithetically ends. Cardinal trails out with one last thought-provoker that's got me thinking about the friendships I've lost in the past three years. It's a small-handful of the most meaningful relationships I've had with other human-beings, torn away by time and circumstance. Sad, right? Absolutely.
i resolve to make new friends
someone tell me to quit my head
and help me forget it
I've been living in Cardinal for a week now. Self-reflecting and summoning the courage to accept things about myself that I wouldn't have before. Seven days isn't long enough to say that an album is classic, but who really cares about lasting power anyway? In a week's time an album changed me a little bit. That's a big thing. I yearn for records that take me out of myself for just long enough to get a glimpse of the bigger picture.