Pinegrove – ‘Cardinal’ Review

Posted: by Sean Gonzalez

A certain part of me has been waiting for this album my entire life. The world of music has been begging for an album like this for decades. The east coast has been anticipating the release of Pinegrove’s debut LP for years. Another part of me has had this album sitting inside of me waiting for someone to channel it. Luckily, Evan Hall mustered all of himself – rather vicariously, all of us – to form Cardinal

Pervading many forms of indie-rock is nothing new for the band; it’s the blend of Americana and alt-country that paints an already diverse canvas with a new color. The natural break in Hall’s voice captures his emotionally unwound conscious and winds it back into place with his verbose lyrics. It’s as if he’s having a conversation with whomever is listening but he’s singing instead. The homey approach opens up fragments of his headspace and releases them to the beat of soft, catchy indie rock. Take “Old Friends,” for instance: a bent up country song where Hall sweeps through a vocal line with the clever, brazen “well so I adverted my stride on a quick one / he’s coming back from goin’ over to your place, huh?” It’s a type of intimacy between his wreathing vocal melodies and the band’s unique guitar pop that makes each song it’s own miniature love story within Cardinal‘s overarching plot: the deceivingly complex, never-ending pursuit of finding yourself.

For a debut, Pinegrove is piquing interest with big hooks and bigger tunes. The slow-burning “Cadmium” evolves from gently-plucked acoustic guitar to a roving bass line, which offers Hall plenty of foundation upon which to search for a way to articulate his anxieties. It’s the kind of cozy campfire song that manages to warm others. “Aphasia” and “Waveform” present a similar feel with commanding vocals tumbling over rigid guitar lines that build in strength as each track progresses. The closing moments of “Aphasia” find Hall reassuring himself on his journey to find his voice. The song features a seismic shift in sound that concludes with a massive guitar solo that (somehow pleasantly) borders on 90’s arena rock. On the following track, “Visting,” he provides his reason for disengaging: “so how about my voice rings out for you and you can tell me what you’re doing, the truth is I lost all track of time and I wound up wandering.” This isn’t the first time Hall has missed out because he’s been caught up in his thoughts, singing earlier, “Maybe I should have gone out a bit more when you guys were still in town, I got too caught up in my own shit, it’s how every outcome is such a comedown, (“Old Friends”). 

Yet, it feels entirely natural for Hall to be lost in his problems. He offers an affable familiarity to people who are stuck in a rut; his kind but determined approach to personal problem-solving doubles as a helping hand for others on their own meditative journeys. Hall is constantly searching for a way to fix each issue and every song on Cardinal is a new ledge to climb. It all builds up to “Size Of The Moon” where Hall almost comes crashing down. “If I did what I wanted, then why do I feel so bad?” he cries out, referencing a line from earlier on the LP: “so I did just what I wanted, so I go through with this, I knew happiness when I saw it” (“Old Friends”). This vulnerability has been trickling through most of the record, but this is the final straw; here, Hall is facing a bit of latent frustration that was always present in his philosophical lyrics. It’s grim, yet hopeful. He’s questioning what to do, read, or say to bring things back to the way they were. The chorus is by far the most urgent statement on Cardinal; syncopated drums and guitars detonate behind Hall’s “I don’t know what I’m afraid of, but I’m afraid one day it will all fall away.” 

The record ends on a less gloomy note, with the dancy charmer and lead single “New Friends:” the final answer to all of his solipsistic grief. “I resolve to make new friends, I liked my old ones but I fucked up so I’ll start again,” sings Hall during the three-minute charmer. Of all Pinegrove songs, this one finds Hall most adamant; he has given up questioning and resolves to move forward. It was hinted at throughout the audible journey, but “New Friends” is the risk you root for as you listen; it may seem like a small hurdle out of context, but it is magnified by the world Hall builds on Cardinal . Again, this record’s motifs have always been inside of me (and probably you, too), it just took a gifted songwriter to bring them out from the shadows. Never lying dormant, Pinegrove have created something strikingly intimate yet universally relatable with Cardinal – and it’s only their debut. whoa. 

Score: 8.75/10

thanks Riley for the edit on this.