After the success of 2015’s compilation album, Everything So Far, New Jersey-based band Pinegrove had a lot to live up to with their latest album release, Cardinal. With only eight catchy, dynamic songs to jam to, it might be shorter than their previous album but it certainly doesn’t feel lacking.
Part of Pinegrove’s appeal is their off-kilter take on classic genres. They’ve been labeled by fans as variations of indie rock, alt-country and emo. Regardless, their sound is uniquely their own. Their guitarist, singer and songwriter, Evan Stephens Hall, describes their sound as “if Virginia Woolf hallucinated the midpoint between math rock and Americana,” and I’d say Cardinal still fits this bill.
Hall’s warm cadence and the smooth, stylistic bends in his voice remain at the forefront of their sound, along with the band’s signature wiggly guitar parts, banjo-playing and general twang. However, a seemingly newfound confidence creates an overall more fine-tuned album than their previous works. This is especially evident with tracks “Size of the Moon” and “New Friends,” which appeared previously on Everything So Far and come back re-recorded, open for new interpretation, in Cardinal.
That said, Hall’s introspective lyrics are really the highlights of this album. He mixes a refreshing combination of realism and resolve to vent about life’s disappointments while also maintaining an admirably grounded perspective. In “Old Friends”, Hall asks, “how come every outcome’s such a comedown?”, but then acquiesces, “I don’t feel undone in a big way.” Similarly, lines such as “It’s all illogical/ There’s nothing you can do,” in the song “Then Again” are refuted with glimpses of optimism via lines like “Stick around/ I’m thinking things will be all right,” and “Things go wrong sometimes/ Don’t let it freak you out,” in the song “Aphasia”.
It’s clear that they wrote these songs first and foremost for themselves, and that authenticity shines through. Listeners are just along for the ride, comforted as Hall articulates familiar feelings in a manner only he can, making universal concepts like pain and healing seem brand new and utterly profound.
Through heavy reminiscing about the past, a little musing about the future and a prevailing theme of being okay in the present, Pinegrove continue their upward trajectory with Cardinal.