Cardinal opens with the question, How come every outcome’s such a comedown? This sets the tone for a record that is reflective, pondering and, most of all, heartfelt.
New Jersey’s Pinegrove play a fascinating blend of indie and country/folk cloaked in poppy vibes on their debut LP, Cardinal. There are strong echoes of the likes of Tigers Jaw and Modern Baseball at times but it’s a unique sound, exhibited with confidence by the band, who manage to be both emotional in a gentle way and passionately energetic—a range that is performed with stunning ability by vocalist Evan Stephens Hall. His voice is one of a kind and lovely to listen to, and is backed beautifully by Nandi Rose Plunkett (maybe there’s something to triple-barrel names!) at points throughout the album, providing gorgeous contrasting layers. In these songs, finger-picked banjos and acoustic guitars build to distorted electric riffs; relaxed, groovy drumming becomes powerful and driving; basslines soft and low turn to booming sustained single notes. This fluctuation in dynamics and energy is carried by the emotional weight of the lyrics, which are heavy at times, but the lightness of the music distracts and makes the whole experience a fun one.
The lyrics are a cut above the majority. Devastatingly honest, they have a way of lulling you in to a story and then catching you off guard, such as on the opener, ‘Old Friends’:
Walking out in the nighttime springtime/Needling my way home/I saw Leah on the bus a few months ago/I saw some old friends at her funeral.
“The lyrics are . . . Devastatingly honest,
they have a way of lulling you in
to a story and then catching you off guard.”
That song ends with, I knew happiness when I saw it, and is indicative of the theme of the whole album, which is one of reflecting on times long gone and capturing something from them, if even just a moment, as well as hope for the future, such as on ‘Aphasia’:
One day I won’t need your love/One day I won’t define myself by the one I’m thinking of.
There is an abundance of introspective questions such as this one from ‘Size of the Moon’:
If I did what I wanted then why do I feel so bad?
That song is my personal favourite. It begins with a softly-strummed clean guitar and a tom-tom beat and builds to a crescendo of cymbals, riffs and fills. It also showcases the lyrical skill on the album:
Do you wanna dance?/Fine. But do you remember when,/in your living room,/when we made some room & moved ourselves/around in it?/It’s how my heart resumed./I got caught,/you got those Caravaggio moves./We had some good ideas but we never left that fucking room./ . . . Would you like a drink/while we wait for everything/to get good again?/ . . . Fine, yeah I know,/I remember that too./In your living room, right?/When we began to fight but then we both got confused./Then we were laughing and crying in awe of the size of the moon.
“There is a sense of expelling something
from inside and rebuilding on top of it.”
Cardinal is a fantastic album of colourful, energetic songs drenched in nostalgia, regret, catharsis and hope. There is a sense of expelling something from inside and rebuilding on top of it, and when the record finishes, there is hope in the air as memories both joyful and sad are held on to and remembered, but assigned to the past. This is music as good as it gets and, despite it being only April, I can say with confidence this will be on many Album of the Year lists come January.
You can listen to Cardinal here: Cardinal by Pinegrove