You Should Know: Pinegrove’s Cardinal

Pinegrove – Cardinal
Released: February 12, 2016
Rating: 93/100


I remember being so moved by my indie rock gateway drugs: Arcade Fire, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bright Eyes, Death Cab For Cutie and Interpol. These little bands on the verge had big sounds and bigger feelings and in the teenage wasteland of identity crises their music gave me the connection I craved. As I discovered music that meant something to me, I found others who felt the same and that meant even more. Indie rock rapidly became more than my preferred sub-genre; it became a defining part of how I self-identified, how I viewed the world and how I connected with others and discovering new bands provided a rush unlike anything I had ever experienced. That high was easy to find in high school and college but as I plod along on my one way trip to adulthood, the sparks of discovery seem to be increasingly rare. When it happens now, it feels like a damn big deal…

With a deep breath and steady guitar chug, Pinegrove’s debut full length album Cardinal starts with “Old Friends” and seconds later I find myself in that most rare and beautiful place. A week ago I had never heard of Pinegrove or their home city of Montclair, New Jersey but I’ve listened to Cardinal dozens of times since, chasing the promise of that thing that used to be so easy to find. These days, I evaluate and disassemble everything I hear but the country-tinged indie rock of Cardinal is so warm and casually intimate, every defense mechanism I have fails and I feel present and alive and utterly shocked by how much I love this record.

In the first few minutes of Cardinal, you can hear the ghosts of indie greats like Built to Spill, Wilco, Ryan Adams, Pavement and Death Cab but it never once sounds derivative or stale. It’s pure indie rock with a hint of country twang and a dash of punk ferocity but there is nothing borrowed on Cardinal; it’s all stolen and the honesty of the execution is so profound that the sum of Pinegrove’s influences result in something entirely new and wonderful. Insert cliche about good artists and great artists here…

Pinegrove’s most remarkable and compelling quality is their intimacy. Singer Evan Stephans Hall’s lyrics on Cardinal are filled with yearning, heartbreak, anxiety and a kind of guarded optimism that requires some serious willpower to sustain. The depth and complexity of Hall’s songwriting is elevated by his unrestrained vocal performance, and when his voice breaks on “Cadmium”, “Aphasia” and “New Friends” the sincerity is almost overwhelming. Pinegrove’s loose lo-fi aesthetic and earnestness on Cardinal create a real closeness between the listener and the music and that proximity is intoxicating and deeply moving.

I could be wrong about Cardinal. My personal history with indie rock bands like Pinegrove might be clouding my judgement with Cardinal and I could easily be giving this band more credit than they’ve earned but I don’t care. I love this record and I love the way it makes me feel. For the first time in years, I feel like the teenager who started writing record reviews in a college dorm room ten years ago and I feel like my next favorite band is still out there waiting to be discovered and I feel like I’m not alone. Ten years from now, Pinegrove might be headlining festivals or they might be working normal human jobs but either way, Cardinal has brought me to life and I just can’t seem to shake the feeling that this is something special, something worth sharing.

Top Tracks: “Aphasia”, “New Friends”, “Cadmium”

Read more reviews from Andy Stone and others on Compact Culture.

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