Review Summary: Expertly crafted songs that are about getting better, if you want them to be.
A recent New Yorker
article, titled “Pinegrove Stages a Complicated Comeback”, vacillates between trying to give the band the appropriate credit for making good music and focusing entirely too much on frontman Evan Stephens Hall, who revealed that he was being accused of “sexual coercion” in a 2017 Facebook post, though he only admitted to “monumentally misread[ing] the situation.” The piece, written by Kelefa Sanneh, sheds a little more light on the nature of the accusation, revealing that it was not a fan or groupie with which Hall had a relationship, but a member of the Pinegrove tour crew instead. Sanneh seems more interested in writing a Ronan Farrow-type exposé of Hall than an earnest attempt to understand Pinegrove’s appeal, and he has trouble describing the band without outright insulting them. Their music “fail[s] to be cool” and is “likely to elicit cringes” from people who don’t like confessional songs and
from people who “demand fashionable innovation.” And yet, Pinegrove (“perhaps more effectively than any other band of its era,” apparently) “harnesses the power of a well-turned musical confession.” See? It’s complicated.
Perhaps it really is. Those who tried to find situational clues about Hall’s improprieties on Skylight
would have been out of luck. That album was written and recorded prior to the accusation; its release date was pushed back after everything blew up. But, as Hall reminded Jenn Pelly in her fantastic Pitchfork
piece, “Reckoning with Pinegrove”, the same person who wrote the Facebook post also wrote “I wanna do much better” in a song well before the storm clouds gathered. While Sanneh implies that Hall is making a mistake – or perhaps even betraying a fanbase that expects more from him – by continuing to write in the same semi-confessional, first-person style, what else can he do?
And what else can we do but listen to the music on the band’s own terms? If there really are people out there who cringe at Pinegrove’s lack of innovation, then it seems pertinent to argue that their music barely needs refinement, let alone outright innovation. Fronted by Hall, a talented writer gifted with a truly beautiful voice, and rounded out by some of the most dependable musicians in indie, they have mastered the art of guerrilla songwriting and could coast for years on the strength of their combined prowess in writing two-minute songs that end before they wear out their welcome (the abrupt silence that closes “Portal” still surprises two years later). Even so, Marigold
does contain some changes. “Spiral” is made up only of amphibrachs (thanks, New Yorker
!), describing either one day or one-hundred days, little reminders piling up, all with a single through-line: be in the moment at all times. The title track is six minutes of droning chords, beautiful and cleansing. At the end of opener “Dotted Line” sits an extended musical coda, a welcome digression from a band that rarely indulges in such flourishes.
That coda comes only after Hall seems unwilling to give in to a final chorus, even after deploying the falsetto that customarily signals the end of a Pinegrove song. “I don’t know how, but I’m thinking it’ll all work out,” he sings four times over, pushing the song past the four-minute mark that only a few of their songs have hit. A lyric like that could be interpreted as a privileged viewpoint – how could it not work out for the straight, white Hall, accused of so much less than others of his ilk and still with a dedicated fanbase? – but, again, what else can he sing than what he is honestly feeling? And there is something redemptive here, as there seemed to be with Skylight
before it. Maybe that perception stems from a desire to find
a redemptive arc even if there isn’t one (or shouldn’t be one). Yet here they are, and here we are, too.
had a cover of large, interlocking squares that have been translated into many a tattoo. Skylight
had just one, as if you were looking up toward the “low light at dawn” through hazy glass. Now, Marigold
sees the fragmentation of those foundational blocks, still recognizable as the squares that have come to symbolize the warm, dependable honesty of Pinegrove, but now eroding and drifting apart. The first words on the album are, “Ignore the wreckage on the shoulder, I cross the border into New Jersey,” which, for Hall, represents home. Look too deeply into those lines and you’re liable to get lost forever. But the music keeps playing, and soon he sings what might be the best and most useful line he’s ever written: “May no fantasy hold my head up.” And I am struck by how much more true that sentiment becomes with each passing day.