Content warning: mention of abuse
New Jersey alt-country outfit Pinegrove have returned with their first release written after the year-long hiatus self-imposed on the band after an ‘implicitly manipulative’ relationship which culminated in frontman Evan Stephens Hall being accused of “sexual coercion” which was “not of a physical nature at all” by an unnamed member of the band’s crew. The unanswered questions this narrative brings up now become inseparable from reflection on the band’s music before and after, and on Marigold they seem to contribute to its reserved, detached character.
This is an album which trades the more cathartic, emo-adjacent leanings of Pinegrove’s earlier work on Cardinal and Skylight for a softer sound. When using this approach, and the slower pace it necessitates when Hall croons; “No drugs and alcohol today / I want to remember everything we talk about / I want to feel light moving in everything you say”, he recaptures the sincerity fans of the band felt so entranced by in their pre-allegation work. When this pace is quickened, as on ‘Phase’, the material is weakest. While the bare bones of confessional, wordy yet sincere lyricism and gorgeous vocal harmonies remain, they somehow don’t feel right in the context of driving uptempo romps anymore.
Thankfully, Pinegrove seem aware of this sense of moving on, not least through Hall’s knowledge of the details of the allegations. He “can’t wait to go home / to be there when the new world comes”, but simultaneously, “woke up the same as yesterday”. There is a yearning for the kind of motion Pinegrove’s earlier music represents, but also a knowledge that this is simply not possible anymore. The allegations and the truth behind them are inescapable, and the stasis and calm of a lot of these songs seems to acknowledge that.
We might disagree completely, and take even the album’s existence as insensitive to Hall’s accuser; importantly, however, closing instrumental ‘Marigold’ gives what the band’s previous efforts have missed: the space and reflection which the seriousness of the allegations deserves. In the warmth of these final minutes, which certainly could be filled as on previous records with powerful climaxes, I found myself returning to lyrics from the second song, ‘Spiral’.
“Drink water / Good posture / Good lighting /
Good evening / You’re mourning / The loss of /
Pinegrove may have lost the emotional impact of their previous work, but I believe they’ve also done the right thing. By exercising restraint and sensitivity, instead of the destructive temptation of catharsis, they have released an album which feels sensitive, sincere, and like a step in the right direction.
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Image: Josh Hofer via Flickr