Review Summary: I wanna do much better
The opening lines of Skylight
resemble a new mission statement for Pinegrove’s lead singer, Evan Stephens Hall: “I draw a line in my life / Singing this is the new way I behave now.”
Though the record was written and recorded a year ago, these words have an eerie resonance given the controversy that has surrounded Hall and the band over the past year.
In November of 2017, Pinegrove became entangled in a confusing and multi-faceted controversy regarding allegations of “sexual coercion in the form of verbal and contextual pressure” against Evan Stephens Hall. Hall issued a statement detailing his relationship with his accuser, his remorse for his actions and the group’s collective decision to cancel Pinegrove’s upcoming tour and album release.
The vague statement generated much confusion and animus from Pinegrove’s devoted fans as they reconciled with the distressing news. But last week, the music publication Pitchfork released a long-form profile piece titled “Reckoning with Pinegrove,” which examined the causes of Pinegrove’s hiatus and how they have attempted to resolve Hall’s allegations.
The article deserves a read itself, as it covers the convoluted series of events that led up to the November statement, but its most striking lines come from Hall himself, who speaks of reassembling himself in the midst of controversy.
“The situation has demanded a full re-inventorying of myself,”
he says. “I’ve tried to approach that with humility and with focus.”
It also details the reconciliation between Hall and his accuser through mediation, with a quote from Hall saying, “[She] has since approved our plan to release an album and play some shows later on this year.”
So after a year of being shelved, Skylight
was finally self-released on Bandcamp, with all proceeds being split evenly between Musicares—a musician support service—, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Voting Rights Project.
The album itself is a brief collection of musical vignettes that seem to shift between bleary recollections and dilemmas of adulthood. The musical backdrop to Hall’s exuberant persona toes the line between alt-rock, folk and Americana with drifting notes weaving between sentimental lyrics. Like a serene fall afternoon spent in contemplation, the music creates a comfortable world to become lost in thought and memory within.
On songs like the opener, “Rings,” there seems to be an ever-present tension that slowly builds but never fully unravels itself. Short bursts of energy quickly give way to whispery respites, with sliding notes of lap-steel guitar creating a delightfully clouded aura hanging over each track.
Much of this musical effect has to do with the recording process of the album, which was tracked in a secluded country house the band took residency in. By taking advantage of the different echoes and reverberations in each of the house’s rooms, they crafted a record with a live-sounding ambiance filled with warm, cohesive instrumentation.
Yet despite the captivating recordings, the focus of each track rests with Hall’s poetic lyricism. On the reworked track, “Angelina,” questioned lines like "How’d you get so tangled up in my life"
fill the song with a resonant passion.
It isn’t that Hall’s emotional statements are easily untangled, but they instead lend themselves to be interpreted differently by each individual listener coming from distinct backgrounds and sentiments. While lines like “I'm longing about open windows / For whatever it is I seek”
off "Darkness" aren’t direct in their meaning, they leave room for subjective meaning to be discovered.
This attitude for subjective meaning can be extended to the image of Pinegrove as a whole. Before Hall’s allegations and subsequent controversies, fans of the band found themselves nurtured by their music, which can often feel like an artistic form of emotional comfort, digested differently by each.
What has happened to Pinegrove’s reputation cannot be ignored, but as they attempt to reconcile with those they’ve hurt, their delayed release of Skylight
feels like an apology. By allowing each listener to consider this new batch of songs from their own subjective lens, it’s as if Hall and his bandmates are asking for us to look deeply into their emotional core ourselves.
The decision to let Pinegrove continue making music lies in us listeners. So, when Hall cries “This is the new way I behave now”
at the outset of Skylight,
it’s up to us to decide if we want to believe him.