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Pinegrove - 11:11 Music Album Reviews

Pinegrove - 11:11 Music Album Reviews
The band’s open-armed fifth album looks to make amends, situating our human responsibilities within a natural world no less powerful and vulnerable than we are.

Pinegrove released their breakthrough record Cardinal in early 2016, a moment which, in rose-colored retrospect, we might call the good old days. An air of promise hung around these newcomers from New Jersey, a certainty that they were the next big benevolent thing in indie rock. It didn’t last. “Reality explodes,” goes one lyric on 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, least of all Pinegrove’s, after a member of the band’s crew accused lead singer Evan Stephens Hall of inappropriate conduct. At her request, Hall completed a course of therapy and suspended the band’s touring schedule for 12 months. 11:11 is Pinegrove’s third release since that hiatus, and the first to clarify what Hall learned from it: When you hurt somebody, you make amends. “I’m not gonna let you down,” sings Hall, in the closing moments of “Respirate,” before opening the next song with, “I let you down today.” It is hard to reckon with having hurt someone; these songs understand that repairing that hurt is both possible and necessary.

But Pinegrove aren’t just looking inward on 11:11. There are sweeping indictments of the ruling class on this album that would have been wildly out of place on the cozy Cardinal. Their scope extends back and forward in time—long before “corona hit” (“Respirate”) and far ahead, on “Orange,” to climate apocalypse. The record is open-armed, inclusive, with instrumentation echoing comfort-food folk and the rootsier elements of recent indie rock. Anyone from a teenage Alex G devotee to an older generation brought up on Neil and Joni will find themselves welcome into this broad musical tent. (Hall’s father plays throughout the album, contributing piano and a particularly stirring organ strain on standout “Alaska.”) The band is reaching out, both asking for support and extending it to anyone who wants in.

Pinegrove’s chief lyrical focus, the place where they see the most urgent need for repair, is the vulnerable space of nature. The album’s scenes—an old-growth forest where “trees repeat like numerals do,” a beach circled by birds, an “opalescent open road” of a sky—are situated in vivid outdoor spaces. We are a long way from the smoggy Port Authority of “Old Friends.” Human beings are animals, the band argues, integral moving parts of the natural world rather than interlopers within it. We have the power to choke the ocean with trash, but the ocean has the power to choke us, too. The best song on this record, “Swimming,” narrates a small child’s narrow escape from drowning. After emerging on the beach, “sputtering,” coughing into the sand, the child takes stock of the scene around him: “the moving trees, and birds above, and clouds.” Hall sings, “I wanna be a part of it/I’m not ready to die/Yet.”

Within this advocacy is the understanding that nature is not a panacea. It is a powerful force, occasionally a malevolent one; it can create sadness as well as cure it. In the lyrics of “Flora,” a depressed person takes “a blue meander into the woods,” only to find that “nothing’s shining like I feel it should.” He collapses—“bowing down,” “bending down”—beneath the trees, and ends the song on the floor. The scrubby undergrowth assumes the texture of Tracey Emin’s blue rug. The birds sound “dissident”—he may have meant “dissonant”—and the sun, in the grass, is red.

Still, the band urges, though “nothing feels good” even in the splendor of nature, to stand by and allow its destruction like so many do-nothing senators is not an option. “Today, the sky is orange,” Hall sings. “And you and I know why.” 11:11 is replete with pilots asleep at the wheel and elected officials ignoring the obvious. Yet the record’s most compelling figure is that dazed child on the beach, vomiting sand and seawater, insisting, “I want to be alive.” Hall, in working to make amends, and working once more to make music, seems to have reached the same conclusion as this child: Healing the world requires one to remain in the world.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Pinegrove - 11:11 Music Album Reviews Pinegrove - 11:11 Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, February 10, 2022 Rating: 5

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