Evan Stephens Hall could be a pop-punk frontman, a country hero or an experimental drone artist, if he put his mind to it. The Montclair, New Jersey musician’s voice treads strange territory - a tightrope between different worlds - without any sense of finality. It’s a trade that suits Pinegrove, whose ‘Cardinal’ album is a stream-of-consciousness, philosophical take on life’s big questions. Without providing a tick-all-boxes answer, it still makes the world feel smaller and more conquerable.
‘Cardinal’ came out in the U.S. in early 2016, and it also includes two songs from the band’s 2015 ‘Everything So Far’ collection. Songs centre around Evan’s meaning of life pursuit, but there’s equal fascination in the group’s instrumentation; a curious hybrid of country, old-school indie and sweltering emo rock. ‘Old Friends’’ open-ended, breezy close isn’t a far cry from ‘Yellow House’-era Grizzly Bear, while ‘Then Again’’s instant fix is just a few shades shy of Frankie Cosmos’ recent output.
What’s unique about Pinegrove is how they compress uncertainty, doubt and fear without being overbearing. Evan constantly second guesses himself, spending minutes hooked on a nagging question. Most songs about being honest and speaking your mind are fairly one-dimensional, but ’Cadmium’’s “say what it is / it’s so impossible” chant is brilliantly to-the-point. ‘Visiting’ is the closest Evan comes to feeling complete. “Cause the truth is / I don’t know what / But you did it,” he sings in a smart spin on love.
‘Old Friends’ is something else altogether, and a strange companion to Kanye West’s ‘Real Friends’. Superstardom separates both acts, obviously, but both songs are about feeling out-of-touch with the things that used to be close to home. With a funereal twist, Pinegrove’s take is an alternative anthem, a gut-wrenching reminder that the world can spin in same orbit, but it’s impossible to know what’s coming next.