Let's Talk About Pinegrove
by Kelli Galayda
Imagine a six-piece band hailing from Montclair, New Jersey, a quaint town of less than 40,000 residents. Four vocalists, three guitars, a bass, some drums, and the keys. This band has revitalized what precisely it means to be an indie band in today’s ever-changing music scene. This band attempts to transcend genre boundaries, creating music that just is, that needs no category, that doesn’t try to fit itself into any one style. This band is Pinegrove—and if you haven’t heard them yet, you need to.
It all started with Mixtape One. Four songs, self-produced, and released on Bandcamp in January of 2010. Next was Meridian, then &, Mixtape Two, and Problems, all of which came before they were finally signed to Run for Cover Records in October 2015. Now, every song from each of their previous albums has been released on a whopper of a compilation record, titled Everything So Far: an easily-accessible collection of the melodies that have molded Pinegrove’s signature sound.
Take folk-inspired guitar plucking, punk-rock riffs, pop-influenced drumbeats, and caterwauling vocals, then mix in the sounds of a Montclarian backyard, and you’ve reached Pinegrove. Their sound isn’t solely any genre, but rather, pulls from multiple musical repertoires to piece together bursts of individuality and a refreshingly new style that is all their own. Unlike many bands on the indie and alternative circuits, Pinegrove isn’t afraid of wild experimentation. For instance, in “Overthrown," the band spends a minute and thirty three seconds lightly strumming guitars and wailing simple lyrics that symbolize complex thought. Compare that to another song off the same album, such as “On Jet Lag," a much more rhythmic and wordier piece, and the vast range and skill that Pinegrove possesses becomes evident. All of that range, all of the numerous inspirations and sounds this band pulls from, can be found wrapped up in one record: Everything So Far.
Everything So Far cannot be summed up in brevity—the depth and intimacy of the lyrics, the barrage of instrumentals, the ambient sound effects, the agonizing vocals—far too much occurs in the span of this record to digest it all. It speaks volumes on its own, but speaks even more to the individual, as the meanings and messages cater to our own patterns of thought, as if the songs were written just for us.
I can, however, speak on behalf of a few personal favorites. Let’s start with “Size of the Moon.” It takes me back to the living room where I grew up, where I haven’t been in years, and how it felt to move the coffee table and dance around wildly while no one was home. “In your living room / When we made some room and moved ourselves around in it.” It takes me back to my high school bedroom, to sitting with the part-time love of my life, locking the door behind us and playing music for hours without pause. “We had some good ideas but we never left that f*cking room.” It takes me back to reckless nights in autumn, when the moon was full and the air was as bitter as us. “Then we were laughing and crying in awe at the size of the moon.” The lyrics speak the thoughts on my mind, saying, “I don’t know what / I’m afraid of / but I’m afraid one day it all will fall away”; and then it did.
This truly is the core of Pinegrove’s sound: memories. Not just memories of their own, but memories we all can share–memories of the most fundamental human experiences, ones that we all undergo in some form or another. “Angelina,” the second track on Everything So Far, is another prime example of this. Americana guitars carry us into a clap-along type of melody, where vocals crescendo in like a slow gust of wind on a muggy day. At the height of the tune, lead singer Evan Stephens Hall comes to an emotional burst, proclaiming, “I love you like it’s the old days / when I could ask you anything," and then painfully questions: “How’d you get so tangled up in my thinking?” “Angelina” is an intentionally-left-empty summer day spent sprawled out on the sofa while the one you love circles your brain like a hungry bumblebee. It fades out the way you fall asleep, thoughts murmuring to a quiet backdrop.
After Everything So Far, Pinegrove fans were thirsty for more, for new songs with that same established style. And so, in February of 2016, Cardinal was released under Run for Cover: the band’s first assembly of all new music since Mixtape Two. They completely dismantled the sophomore slump trope, further unleashing their eclectic style through musical poetry. A few re-recorded songs from Everything So Far were included on the record, such as “Size of the Moon” and “New Friends,” but otherwise, all the new tracks felt like a continuation of Everything So Far, a further development of their sound and a push to mould it into the nostalgic array of sentiment that has landed their name a spot on the list of major musical innovators.
Track four on Cardinal, “Aphasia,” is a prime example of Pinegrove at their best, at their most honest. It opens with, “So satisfied I said a lot of things tonight / So long aphasia and the ways it kept me hiding,” alluding the feeling of biting your tongue and the freedom that comes when you let the words out of your tightly-clenched teeth. It exposes the punk side of the band, with emo-esque wails from Stephens Hall and guitar breakdowns at the bridge worthy of a 90s punk jam. “Aphasia” radiates self-determination, raw emotion, and truth.
What makes “Aphasia” so great is nostalgia—the same thing that made all of Cardinal and Everything So Far as great as they were. It’s that creeping kind of nostalgia, the one that crawls slowly through your ribcage and wraps itself so tightly around your bones, you have no choice but to sit in it, to just absorb the feeling. Pinegrove knows how to pick and prod at the tiniest of memories, those that have made their way into hidden crevices of the brain, stagnant and collecting dust, pushed away by their owners. Their songwriting brings these old thoughts to life, connecting listeners to the music on planes not all songwriters are able to reach. As Stephens Hall says himself on "Cadmium," “I shine light on edges I tried to unfeel,” and by doing so, Pinegrove turns to the light on us, illuminating all the edges we've tried not to feel.
— Kelli Galayda is a recent graduate of Monmouth University, where she studied Communications and served as the Editor in Chief of The Verge, an online student-run magazine. Currently, she works as a freelance photographer, writer, and artist. You can follow her on Instagram @kkagey, or find her writing at kgalayda.wordpress.com.