When we last heard from Pinegrove’s Evan Stephens Hall, he was working through some very public personal stuff and trying to look to the future on his band’s pretty and introspective 2020 album, Marigold.
“Is it so wrong?” he sang on “No Drugs,” the album’s third track. “I wanna feel good.”
Two years later, Hall seems to have found his way there, even as the world has gone to shit. On Pinegrove’s new album 11:11, the New Jersey band deliver 11 tracks of their reliably twangy, heart-on-sleeve rock ’n’ roll, Hall’s focus has shifted from inward to outward, and his message has evolved from contemplative to comforting.
Right in the middle of 11:11, for example, is a slow-building ballad called “Respirate” that laments the languishing life experienced by so many during the COVID-19 pandemic. After acknowledging his own frustrations, he offers some advice as the song’s arrangement swells:
Take it day by day
And just do your best to respirate
You’re having a hard time now
Finding a good way out
Well, me also
But no one’s gonna rescue us
Much of 11:11 seems to be inspired by our familiar, accumulating stressors: Climate change and indifferent politicians (“Orange”), racial reckoning and American decline (“Habitat”), personal failure (“Let”) and cluttered minds (“Iodine”). In all cases, Hall’s lines are sung with his typical open-hearted warmth, not to mention his charming vocal rasp. He has a unique way with words, leaning heavily on homophones, slant rhymes and alliteration, and he is an evocative singer. That combination was evident on Pinegrove’s earliest Bandcamp releases, and it remains evident today.
The greatest strength of Pinegrove’s music, however, has always been the band’s scruffy and unhurried sound, which draws from both the twang of Americana and the palpable passion of emo. On 11:11, they get the blend just right over and over again, whether they’re playing a propulsive punk-rocker (“Alaska”), a loping country tune (“Flora”) or a song like “Iodine,” which features sparkling acoustic guitar picking, an airy chorus and gorgeous vocal harmonies. (Harmonies continue to be an ace in the hole for Pinegrove, as does the tasteful slide guitar work of multi-instrumentalist Joshua F. Marré.)
After the breakthrough of their incredible 2016 album Cardinal, Hall and Pinegrove faced the tall task of trying to match or surpass it. They haven’t quite done that, but they have built an impressive catalog of albums that spill over with compelling songs and affecting performances. From that perspective, 11:11 fits in perfectly.
Ben Salmon is a committed night owl with an undying devotion to discovering new music. He lives in the great state of Oregon, where he hosts a killer radio show and obsesses about Kentucky basketball from afar. Ben has been writing about music for more than two decades, sometimes for websites you’ve heard of but more often for alt-weekly papers in cities across the country. Follow him on Twitter at @bcsalmon.