Pinegrove: 11:11 Album Review | Fork

Pinegrove released their breakthrough record Cardinal at the beginning of 2016, a moment that, looking back in pink, we could call the good old days. An air of promise hung around these New Jersey newcomers, a certainty that they were the benevolent next big thing in indie rock. It didn’t last. “Reality is exploding,” says one of the lyrics to the band’s new album, 11:11“and suddenly we’re sinking/And I’m singing/And I’m old.”

No band’s longevity has ever been certain, let alone Pinegrove’s, after a member of the band’s lineup accused lead singer Evan Stephens Hall of inappropriate conduct. At her request, Hall took a course of therapy and suspended the band’s touring schedule for 12 months. 11:11 is Pinegrove’s third outing since that hiatus, and the first to clarify what Hall learned from it: when you hurt someone, you make amends. “I’m not gonna let you down,” Hall sings, in the closing moments of “Respirate,” before opening the next song with “I let you down today.” It’s hard to count on having hurt anyone; these songs understand that fixing this hurt is both possible and necessary.

But Pinegrove doesn’t just look inside 11:11. There are sweeping accusations against the ruling class on this album that would have been wildly out of place on the comfortable Cardinal. Their scope stretches backwards and forwards in time – long before the “crown stroke” (“Breathe”) and far ahead, on “Orange”, until the climatic apocalypse. The record is open, inclusive, with instrumentation that echoes heartwarming folk and the more grounded elements of recent indie rock. Anyone from an Alex G-loving teenager to an older generation raised on Neil and Joni will be welcome in this expansive musical tent. (Hall’s father plays throughout the album, contributing piano and a particularly moving organ strain on “Alaska.”) The band is reaching out, both asking for support and extending it. to anyone who wants it.

Pinegrove’s primary lyrical focus, the place where they see the most urgent need for repair, is nature’s vulnerable space. The album’s scenes—an ancient forest where “trees repeat like numbers,” a beach surrounded by birds, an “opalescent open road” of sky—are set in living outdoor spaces. We are far from the Port Authority smog of “Old Friends”. Human beings are animals, the group argues, moving integral parts of the natural world rather than intruders within it. We have the power to choke the ocean with trash, but the ocean also has the power to choke us. The best song on this record, “Swimming”, is about a small child’s narrow escape from drowning. After emerging onto the beach, “spitting”, coughing in the sand, the child takes stock of the scene around him: “the moving trees, and the birds above, and the clouds”. Hall sings, “I wanna be a part of it / I’m not ready to die / Yet.”

In this plea there is the understanding that nature is not a panacea. It is a powerful, sometimes malevolent force; it can create sadness as well as heal it. In the lyrics of “Flora”, a depressed person takes “a blue meander in the woods”, only to discover that “nothing shines the way I feel”. He collapses – “bowing down”, “bending over” – under the trees and ends the song on the ground. The brushy undergrowth takes on the texture of Tracey Emin’s blue carpet. The birds sound “dissident” – he may have meant “dissonant” – and the sun, in the grass, is red.

Yet the group urges that while “nothing feels right” even in the splendor of nature, standing idly by and allowing its destruction like so many senators doing nothing is not an option. “Today the sky is orange,” sings Hall. “And you and I know why.” 11:11 is full of drivers asleep at the wheel and elected officials ignoring the obvious. Yet the most compelling figure on the record is this dazed child on the beach, vomiting sand and seawater, insisting, “I want to be alive.” Hall, working to make amends, and once again working to make music, seems to have come to the same conclusion as this child: healing the world requires staying in the world.

To buy: Gross Trade

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