By Phillip Morgan
Pinegrove’s sound can prove difficult to describe to non-listeners, and it seems frontman and mastermind Evan Stephens Hall knows this. After the band (i.e., him and a rotating cast of friends) signed to Boston indie label Run for Cover Records late last year and released a compilation of all their prior EPs called Everything So Far, he provided some choice taglines like “if Phil Elverum established a funk band” and “if Virginia Woolf hallucinated the midpoint between math rock and Americana.” As absurdly cool and mysterious as those descriptions sound, Pinegrove sounds more like if William Faulkner fronted an emo band, and Hall’s own explanation of his influences (which include Faulkner along with Joyce and the woods surrounding Kenyon College) would appear to agree.
Pinegrove hails from Montclair, New Jersey, but Hall’s voice bears a melancholic twang more reminiscent of Appalachian folk than the bombastic Jersey singers of yore. He’s an Anti-Springsteen of sorts, demonstrating the same gift for emotionally poignant, storied lyricism but focusing more on interpersonal conflict and self-exploration than anthemic calls-to-arms. While Springsteen openly challenges the excesses of Reaganism and screams that he was “born to run” in the face of working class drudgery, Hall wanders through the forest, meditating on how “every outcome is such a comedown.”
True to his roots, Hall’s lyricism takes several cues from past literary greats, blending the rustic sensibilities of Henry David Thoreau, the melancholic introspection of James Joyce, and the sharp internal dialogue of William Faulkner into what is best described as a sad-boy nature hike. On “Old Friends,” the first track off of Pinegrove’s upcoming album, Cardinal, Hall opens with himself walking, “over cracks along under the trees / I know this town grounded in a compass / cardinal landed in the dogwood.” He then gradually delves into all the stuff he’s avoiding while in the woods—a former love he wants to patch things up with but can’t bring himself to confront, her new boyfriend who he flees on sight, and a friend whose recent death still haunts his thoughts, noting towards the end that, “my steps keep splitting my grief / through these solipsistic moods.” As the song floats through dim, jangly guitars and quick bursts of banjo, Hall takes comfort in the tranquility of his forest wandering, distancing himself from the constant reminders of soured relationships as he attempts to move on with his life. As far as Hall and Pinegrove are concerned, the forest is their oldest friend.
Yet for someone who feels safest alone in the woods, Hall leaves no barriers between himself and his fans. Following a solo acoustic set at Run for Cover Records on February 4, one audience member was pleasantly surprised with how “human and approachable” he was, addressing total strangers alone. She remarked that Hall’s performance was, “more like watching a friend perform in a living room than a promoted Run for Cover band.”
Based on her reaction, Hall and co. are not interested in ensnaring the listener’s attention like so many other acts in the indie/emo landscape. Instead, like the woods that first inspired Hall, their folksy take on emo allows just enough light through the treetops to balance out the somber, brutally honest introspection. At Pinegrove’s core is a deep appreciation for the tranquility of the woods, but Hall doesn’t seem to want or expect answers from any outside source. He just wants someone to wander the forest with.
Pinegrove will release their debut album, Cardinal, on February 12 via Run for Cover Records. Pre-Order the album here.