There is a day camp by my house. It’s called Pine Grove Day Camp. Super intense car situation when camp lets out. This is not about that Pine Grove, though. This is about Pinegrove the band. One word. Not two.
Pinegrove is also from New Jersey but seemingly has little to do with summer camp activities unless it’s a summer camp that specializes in producing a fascinatingly honest and genuine version of alt-country that incorporates elements of emo and lo-fi garage rock. That’d be a weird summer camp, but also maybe a super cool one. Again, this is not about summer camps. There will be plenty of time for that later when the deadline to sign up for them approaches.
Formed in north Jersey in 2010, Pinegrove consists of a rotating cast of characters revolving around the band’s two constants: Evan Stephens Hall on lead vocals and guitar and drummer Zack Levine. Beyond those two fellas are a group of musicians playing various guitars and various keyboards. Some sing as well. But it all started in lovely Montclair, New Jersey with Stephens Hall and Levine, and during the first year or so of the 2010s, Pinegrove self-released material primarily through Bandcamp and played shows wherever possible, eventually gaining the attention of indie label Run For Cover in 2014. Soon after, the band released Everything So Far, a compilation of albums they had released prior to signing with Run For Cover.
In 2016, they released Cardinal, their second official album and also their breakthrough album. The album received glowing reviews from Stereogum and Pitchfork and led to an appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk series. In between tours, the band set up shop in a farm in upstate New York and recorded their third album Skylight, which was slated to be released towards the end of 2017. However, the album was then shelved for a year when Stephens Hall publicly addressed an allegation of “sexual coercion” with a member of the band’s touring entourage. Stephens Hall and the band proceeded to go dark for a year, halting any momentum that had been building following Cardinal.
Skylight was released in late 2018 and two years later, Marigold would follow. On each album, the band produced a unique spin on alt-country that separated them from other young, independent bands. They could get somewhat loud or they could get incredibly soft and delicate. The narrative throughline was Stephens Hall’s vocals, which sound young and innocent but also hardened and occasionally wise at the same time.
On Friday, the band released 11:11, their fifth album and first to be recorded in a proper studio. They also sought help from Chris Walla, formerly of Death Cab for Cutie, who assisted in production.
While you should definitely check out the band’s new album, I’d also recommend going back and checking out these songs from their earlier releases.
“Old Friends” is the first Pinegrove song that got me, really hooked me, and made me want to know more about this band. You can hear the country vibe of the band but also the emotions that would lead someone to label the band alt-country/emo. “Old Friends” has a warm little stomp to it that drives the song beneath Stephens Hall’s narrative, story-telling vocals. And yes, you should call your parents when you think of them and tell your friends when you love them. Sage-like advice right there.
2020’s Marigold definitely felt like a more mature album from the band, one that seemed to be driven by increasing confidence in their ability. And while Pinegrove isn’t a “young” band anymore at this stage of the game, they are still on the greener side of life, thus making it all that more impressive that they can so deftly handle a song like “The Alarmist.” It’s a pretty song that makes you feel the rustic walls around you and the warmth of the fire burning softly in the fireplace.
Some songs are just straight up easy to listen to. It might be the beat or the melody or maybe how the guitar is polite and non-obtrusive. You hear it and without prompting, your head just starts moving with the music and in all likelihood, the rest of your body follows suit. “Darkness” is one of those songs.
In general, I’m more of a loud music person. The quiet tunes don’t always hold my attention and as a result, even with Pinegrove, who dabble with both, I do find I’m partial to their more rock songs. “Phase” has a chorus that has a burst to it, like when the sun bombs through a layer of dark clouds on a particularly dismal day. Is that hope you feel? Hard to say. But if it is, run with it, kid.
The second song on “Cardinal” lowers the temperature after “Old Friends” opens the album. The first half of this song moves as if propelled by a gentle breeze before it gets slightly heavier in the back nine. But there is a nice little swing to “Cadmium” and a hypnotic nature to Stephens Hall’s vocals that is delightfully engrossing.
This list was going to be five songs but that would have meant leaving “Easy Enough” off and I wasn’t going to do that. No way. And that my friend, is all I’m going to say about that.