Pinegrove was criticized for being an emo-band after someone declared them to be such. This was likely due to their rise in the 2010s, and the hordes upon millennials from Montclair who saw them singing along at all-ages shows.
As evidenced by Pinegrove’s fourth full-length 11:11, released on Jan. 28 by the Rough Trade label, the band owes its primary musical debt to the twangy alt-country of Wilco (or, more locally, Metuchen’s Roadside Graves and Asbury Park’s River City Extension), even if singer Evan Stephens Hall almost certainly grew up with Jersey emo stalwarts like Ace Enders and Chris Conley on heavy rotation. It’s not Southern, but Midwestern and not at all Joisey that you can hear.
Since forming, Pinegrove has been self-sufficient in the studio, and while Hall and multi-instrumentalist Sam Skinner co-produced 11:11, the band brought in Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla to mix. That proved a wise decision, with Walla finding a perfect balance between the DIY rusticity of the early albums and the studio sheen of 2020’s Marigold.
Hall once observed that while emo tends to look inwardly, his band often looks outwardly, and that is certainly true for the best parts of Hall. 11:11Many of their songs are outdoors. Sometimes that means taking walks while admiring the beauty of nature. Hall has suggested that this title 11:11Could also represent a tree stand, as well as a date or time), but it’s more often used to refer to the destruction that climate changes have caused on the sky and water.
While 11:11 largely eschews the rustic guitars, clattering drums, slide guitar and banjo that distinguished Pinegrove’s earliest work, standout track Flora (listen below) fully embraces the twang of traditional country, its upbeat lilt belied by a lyric that notes something has gone horribly wrong: And I’m walkin’ outside, nothing feels good/Take a blue meander into the woods/Nothing’s shining like I feel like it should/And the birds sing dissident tunes. (Hall, always a crafty lyricist, references the album’s title again in the otherwise dreary Let with the line the day the calendar’s a palindrome.)
Orange, which also looks out to the world, is also the most politically charged Pinegrove song to date in the fight against climate change. Hall sings that today the sky is orange and you and I both know why. And when he tries to bring the problem to his senator, he’s told I should feel happy he talked to me at all. This confrontation is wrapped in lush layers and vocal harmonies, clashing drums, electric guitars, and vocal harmonies.
Respirate again trades Hall’s usual oblique poetry for a more concrete message; When Corona hit, I was already feeling pretty out of it/Frustrated with myself, frustrated with my fellows, he sings over symphonic crashes of melody and percussion. The chorus captures how we all feel after two years of pandemic: I take it day by day/And just do my best to respirate/We’re having a hard time now/Finding a good way out.
11:11Hall and the rest of the band falter when they look inward. The album relies too heavily on first-person navel gazing, with laggard beats and hookless melodyes. Only a few songs feature a first or second person, and they are often non-specific. Even though many tracks are under three minutes long, the 11-track collection feels too long. Alaska, which gives the album its name, is the only song that offers a break from the mid-tempo humdrum. This feeling is mutual by the time the listener reaches the laxonic So What?
Zack Levine, a drummer and Hall were childhood friends. They formed Pinegrove in 2010 and followed a similar path to the Front Bottoms. They made do-it-yourself records and played all-ages shows. This helped them build a loyal following before they were noticed by a label. In 2016, Run for Cover Records released the band’s breakout LP CardinalIt was brought to the attention by radio and internet taste-makers, and it has since grown its following to a national one.
But just as the band was about to capitalize on the buzz with 2017’s follow-up, SkylightHall was accused of sexual coercion by a woman he had dated. Pinegrove decided not to wait for cancel culture’s success and cancelled their own career. Hall was able to receive therapy during the year-long hiatus. The band self-released SkylightIn 2018, all profits were donated to charity. Although Pinegrove maintained that the album had been mixed before the allegations arose, the first track on Skylight begins, I draw a line in my life, singing, ‘This is the new way I behave now,’ and actually live by the shape of that sound.
Both critics and fans are warmly welcomed MarigoldIn 2020, the band will be on Rough Trade. But the pandemic made touring that album impossible, and the first half of Pinegrove’s 2022 tour has been cancelled or postponed as well. When the band finally gets to hit the road in mid-February, we’ll learn if the Pinenuts turn out and welcome a more dour Pinegrove album without those radio-ready singalongs.
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