The Lowdown: In late 2017, the New Jersey band Pinegrove received attention for something besides music when singer Evan Stephens Hall announced he’d been accused of “sexual coercion” (verbal, not physical) by a woman with whom he’d had a relationship, revealing few other details. Hall and his accuser reached resolution through a private mediator, and the group dropped out of sight for a year. Now, Pinegrove have returned with their first new recordings since this dark episode cast a shadow over a band beloved for caring and sensitivity.
The Good: Pinegrove still sound like Pinegrove on Marigold, weaving a lovely tapestry of electric guitars shaded by occasional streaks of alt-country. Stronger tracks, including the rousing “Phase” and the elegant “No Drugs”, boast an airy beauty, and even the lesser ones have a soothing grace. Throughout, drummer Zack Levine is the group’s not-so-secret weapon, giving the soft melodies a quiet edge with his subtly sophisticated playing.
Make no mistake, however. This is Hall’s show. In addition to singing lead, he’s the sole writer on all but one tune and co-produced the album. Though you can’t assume the songs are autobiographical, there’s no denying Hall delivers a powerful portrayal of a troubled soul who is sometimes despairing and occasionally more than a little sorry for himself.
Still, there’s a yearning, unpretentious directness to Hall’s singing that makes it easy to believe he’s speaking from the heart, not engaging in a performance. On “Dotted Line”, the jumpy opening track, he declares, “I don’t know how/ But I’m thinking it’ll all work out,” only to slide into gloom on “The Alarmist”, languidly sighing, “As far as I can see/ Is terrible territory/ And there’s no one/ To reassure me.” Set to a snappy beat and laced with tender steel guitar, “Phase” observes, “There’s wreckage everywhere I look,” while the slow-burning “Endless” grasps at hope, noting, “It’s feeling pretty bad to me/ But I don’t think it goes on endlessly.”
After these tortured musings, the title track concludes the album with a gorgeous, ambient instrumental that runs six minutes, sweeping away the angsty clouds and implying brighter days ahead. Providing closure to a difficult chapter, it’s a brilliant move.
The Bad: Any artist who thinks his or her feelings are worth sharing is by nature self-important to some degree. Hall’s confessional intensity has sometimes earned him an emo label, though he’s more articulate than such a reductive tag suggests. Yet, Marigold finds him self-absorbed to an off-putting extreme at times. On “Neighbor”, even voicing concern for an animal in distress is just another opportunity to make everything about himself, as he murmurs, “I’m tryna do right, but I guess I desecrate everything.”
The Verdict: Hardcore fans will be happy the band have survived a crisis, but Marigold falters a bit under the weight of Hall’s relentless self-regard. Hopefully, he’ll be able to get out of his own way better next time.
Essential Tracks: “Marigold”, “No Drugs”, and “Phase”