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Pinegrove - Marigold Music Album Reviews

On their fourth album, the indie-folk band still possess their signature warmth, but the charm of their heartfelt confessionals has dimmed. 

Pinegrove arrived on a promise of deep personal connection. One of the band’s early songs, “New Friends,” begins with singer-songwriter Evan Stephens Hall scanning the room for anyone he knows. When he can’t find a familiar face, it’s as if he welcomes members of the audience as fresh confidantes. In a twangy voice that can rise from a bookish murmur to a raspy yawp, he belts, “What’s the worst that could happen?”


Organized around the core duo of Hall and drummer Zack Levine, two friends who grew up together in a leafy New Jersey township, Pinegrove kept spreading that sense of intimacy through their creaky indie-folk. Their breakout record, 2016’s Cardinal, opens with “Old Friends,” a shuffling, spoken-sung romp with a diaristic homecoming narrative that carries a twinge of mortality. “Should tell my friends when I love them,” Hall sings. Bigger and bigger audiences were soon singing along; their fans became known as Pinenuts; Kristen Stewart got a Pinegrove tattoo. They raised more than $21,000 for Planned Parenthood while delivering communal anthems as impassioned as they were vulnerable.

A follow-up to Cardinal was just about ready to go when, in November 2017, Hall announced—via a long Facebook post—that he’d “been accused of sexual coercion” by an unnamed person. (According to a recent Pinegrove profile in The New Yorker, the accuser was “a member of the band’s crew” who had a romantic relationship with Hall that she views as “implicitly manipulative.”) After a year-long hiatus at, Hall told Pitchfork, the request of the accuser, the band released Skylight, a spare album that refined the band’s open-hearted alt-Americana. Pinegrove’s new album Marigold contains some of their signature warmth but lacks the luster that made their initial run of albums exceptional.

Self-produced by Hall and Pinegrove multi-instrumentalist Sam Skinner, Marigold is endearingly rumpled, but the mood is more melancholy, more dreary. These songs find the forever-unguarded Hall in dark, sleepless nights and awestruck mornings. The most transcendent moment comes in the chorus of the opening track, “Dotted Line,” when Hall sings, joined by weeping steel guitars and the powerhouse backing vocals of former member Nandi Rose (aka Half Waif), “I don’t know how/But I’m thinking it’ll all work out.” Another balm is “The Alarmist,” where a rootsy shimmer somewhere between Nick Drake and Big Thief cushions a naked plea for reassurance.

The sullen, hangdog mood can start to feel drab. Hall always seems to be singing about either waking up or falling asleep; more than one song hinges on an encounter with an animal in the road. These banal motifs make it feel like you’re shut in with someone who doesn’t get out much and, in contrast to such famous recluses as Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, doesn’t have much imagination about the world outside, either.

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There’s no blueprint for how—or even whether—a band should return after complicated sexual misconduct allegations. Though Skylight was released after the allegations, it was recorded before and shelved soon after. That album’s seeming return to basics was more like a fluke of time than a statement. Following a string of sold-out shows last year, Marigold is the first album written in the wake of Hall’s experience, one that perhaps colors the feelings of seclusion and doubt so earnestly deployed here. Whether he’s writing through it or writing around it, Hall presents as an open book.

Unfortunately, this openness leaves something to be desired artistically. Some lyrics have a grating, Victorian quality: “You do upend my island,” Hall sings on one song, like a lovesick character from a Decemberists deep cut. “Let’s build us a new house for to live,” he sings on another. The charm of his confessions has dimmed considerably and the six-minute title track, a droning electro-acoustic instrumental, is simply superfluous. Even on “The Alarmist,” the songwriter who once used “solipsistic” as a lyric now pushes back at solipsism by demonstrating the discovery of object permanence: the awareness, which typically occurs during infancy, that people and objects still exist even when they’re out of sight. “When you walk away, you still exist,” Hall sings. It feels of a piece with why Pinegrove’s once bottomless well of sincerity now feels low and lukewarm. The simple has turned complicated, the signal has some static, but they still play as if they just want to find a new confidante in the crowd.


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About Udara Madusanka

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