[sic] Magazine

Pinegrove – Cardinal

Pinegrove are the band so many young men think they’re in. Schoolyard friends, the Levine brothers and songwriter Evan Stephens Hall make the music they like, influenced by the music they like yet with a voice particular to their generation. The New Jersey trio’s eight scruffy tracks unspool over an unhurried half an hour taking in DIY indie-rock, cult acoustic pop and tasteful alt-country elements such as the banjo – emo too, but only in the sense of a man with a guitar talking about emotions in a similar way to how someone like Dashboard Confessional used to. No New Jersey boy entirely avoids the shadow of Bruce Springsteen, too, and Cardinal rings in particular with the open spaces of his Nebraska. So too is the alt twang of vintage Saddle Creek present. There are also nods to Neutral Milk Hotel in the vulnerability of Hall’s carefully chosen lyrics, as well as in his ability to not sound shit when talking in an abstract way. His tumbling, alliterative stories unfold like those of forgotten troubadour Liam Frost, only done over in this case by a backdrop of melodic, punk-flecked Americana.

Cardinal is deeply nostalgic not only in its musical delivery, but also in its themes of memory and of the concept of home – a place, Montclair, that these boys must surely hold dear to their heart as you can hear it in their uplifting choruses and the way Hall’s voice cracks with emotion when he goes for the high notes. Alongside flourishes of finger-picked chords, Hall is the sort of mesmeric, accidental performer you could only hope to stumble across at some local open mic, his tunes often as battered as the guitar case he almost certainly carries at all times. He often seems world weary, yet world wise. His lyrics are observational and they come from an uncommon perspective, even going so far as to be wittily self-referential. He’s humble and honest, too, admitting he was “totally nervous to go to Japan” on “Then Again” in a way that Mark Kozelek might if he was so inclined to knock out a short blast of ramshackle pop-punk.

This is an album that is revelatory not in a grand way, more in a kind of rite of passage fashion, a track like “Aphasia”, for example, extolling the virtues of having the maturity, confidence and, crucially, the capacity to finally say what you mean, its stately rock soloing pure triumph. Acoustic intros typically step up into rousing rockers that, at one point, somehow allow Hall to get away with a tenuous rhyming couplet built around being able to “warn you / California”. Cardinal’s hands-off production also allows it sound intimate, even when a sorrowful ballad like “Waveform” – which comes on like a Father John Misty out-take ruminating on the evils of alcohol – evolves into a shouty anthem for the best of friends. Standout moment “Size Of The Moon”, which originally appeared on Pinegrove’s literally-titled Everything So Far cassette, nevertheless equally spans all of Cardinal’s highs and lows, riding its crests and falls effortlessly, Hall’s reworked vocal bursting with passion.

Despite all this, Cardinal is an album that comes down to its bookends. It opens with “Old Friends”, a teary track that concedes that “I should call my parents when I think of them / I should tell my friends when I love them.” Pinegrove is a collection of twenty-something men at a crossroads, however, and by the time their Cardinal closes out they’re finishing with “New Friends”, also formerly of the Everything So Far cassette. While “Old Friends” may be the newer material, it’s “New Friends” that rings in the ears after the record’s stopped spinning. With the release of the highly compelling Cardinal, Pinegrove’s old life is now resolutely behind them and their bright future wide open. As Hall explains, “I liked my old ones, but I fucked up, so I’ll start again.” Sometimes nostalgia isn’t about living in the past, but wisely using its lessons to move forward.

Best track: “Size Of The Moon”

~The expanded European edition of Cardinal is released July 1st 2016 via Run For Cover. Bonus material includes early versions, demos and song sketches from the Cardinal sessions. It will be available as a double-CD and as an LP plus bonus CD of supplementary material.~