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Review: Pinegrove return with 11:11

Pinegrove goes political and keeps the tunes coming.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

New Jersey’s alt-country starlets Pinegrove are back with their fifth full-length release 11:11. Fans have been talking about 11:11 as a ‘back to basics album’ after Marigold’s refinement, but I don’t think that’s quite right: there is as much innovation as nostalgia on this record, creating an enjoyable balance which is immediate for the new listener and comforting for the old one. As far as I know Pinegrove had not released anything like the two-time romp of ‘Alaska’ or the patient jam-band energy of ‘Iodine’, yet familiar melodies pop up on these and other songs.

This seems like an unavoidable consequence of sticking to a broadly similar formula across now 5 releases, but it feels difficult to dislike singer Evan Hall’s familiar delivery; he blends the emotional vulnerability of the band’s emo roots with an endearing cosmopolitan twang, the irritatingly bright vocabulary of an English student with a sincere and technically proficient voice. His range is apparent in one of my musical comedy moments of the year on ‘Respirate’, where the album’s emotional peak (‘No one’s gonna rescue us / No one will care if we spend our lives up / But I care now / Not gonna let you down), floated across a colossal organ and splashing ride cymbals, implodes into the next song’s muted riposte: ‘I let you down today’. It’s a moment as funny as it is affecting, and while Pinegrove elsewhere on the album take themselves more seriously, it’s refreshing to see such a confident control over mood and bathos. 

Pinegrove’s music is inherently welcoming. This is something Hall has acknowledged in discussing the title’s meaning – or rather how many different interpretations of it there can be, and the same goes for the band itself. That’s not to say that the album is twee, or takes it easy – the main innovation this time around is the attempted centering of politics, particularly of the climate, in the band’s lyricism. Politics has often lingered on the outlines of Pinegrove’s work, and the way it joins up with their traditional emotional content reflects Hall’s finesse as a writer. However, at times I question its application to the sonic palette Pinegrove uses, and I’m not alone. Fan groups I’m in consistently rate ‘Orange’, the most political cut, as their least favourite. Despite a huge chorus I’m inclined to agree; Pinegrove match their angriest lyrics to a song which is just less musically ambitious than many other highlights on the album. The status quo of the instrumentation, structure and harmony seems to jar with the radical change the lyrics are crying out for..

But the political elements, just like the more ambitious and subtle innovations, can be taken or left; the music is effective either through this political lens, or merely as a collection of great tunes. That in itself might be a mark against the band’s message, but it simultaneously affirms 11:11 as yet another talented effort from a confident group. 

Image courtesy of Douglas Dresher, via Flickr