WRITTEN BY: Aaron Scofield
Hailing from Montclair, NJ and currently residing in upstate New York, indie rock band Pinegrove recently released their sixth LP entitled 11:11, marking another purposeful installment in the band’s expanding discography.
The album succeeds 2020’s Marigold, which was released just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While Marigold was recorded in what could easily be described as “the old world,” it retains and revolves around themes of patience, self-reflection, and a longing for normalcy that most people felt in lockdown. Front man Evan Stephens Hall continued meditating on these themes and formed a strong stance on how the band would emerge from the pandemic, thus resulting in 11:11.
The opening track, “Habitat”, marks the band’s longest track to date and is one of the album’s greatest successes. The verses begin quietly with only guitar and drums present, but quickly explode into an expansive and blaring cacophony of warm and gritty electric guitars. The track finally climaxes with the introduction of a seven-note motif that characterizes and repeats throughout the second half of the track. What was loud and electric thirty seconds prior is now descending into doubled acoustic guitar and ambient sound: wind, birdsong, and the sound of wood floors creaking under physical or metaphorical weight. Hall sings, repeats, and almost eulogizes, reflecting on the urgency of the American decline:
“did i forget? my teacher says
the precipice, the precedent
the depressing question of our time
of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline”
After a seamless transition, the second single from the album, “Alaska,” pulls the listener out of meditation and throws them back to the band’s indie rock roots. The track instantly hooks the listener in, featuring the full band in addition to Hall’s father, Doug Hall, on the organ. For two minutes and six seconds, the energy of the track and the band is almost palpable—sure to be a favorite when played live. The next song, “Iodine,” shows the band’s range and dips into folk fingerpicking styles, reminiscent of tracks from Marigold.
With the next two tracks, the record reaches and explores one of its main themes: the climate crisis. “Orange” details Hall’s struggle with understanding why some people, including his elected officials, seem to be complacent with the changing and declining state of nature. Hall sings of how easy it is to find oneself discouraged by the denial and ignorance of society. In an attempt to bring awareness to the subject, he always returns to a two-line trope, singing,
“they’re trying to ignore it we always knew they’d try
today the sky is orange & you & i know why”
“Flora” follows, expressing similar themes of discouragement and reflecting on how nature used to be, finally concluding in what Hall no doubt sees as ultimate reverence: a literal prayer to the flora.
Other notable tracks of the album include “So What,” a quick melody that fans could easily relate to 2016’s Cardinal. Featuring themes of impermanence and the unimportance of trivial change, the track once again features Hall’s father on the organ, providing a lush backing to the simplistic lyrics.
“Swimming” finds its place at the end of the album as a narrative track, telling a potentially autobiographical story of a close call the narrator had with death at a young age. The narrator finds themself drowning in the ocean, just to be thrown back on the beach, sputtering, and gasping for breath. This experience results in the narrator finding an acceptance, appreciation, and utmost desire for life:
“sputtering into the moving trees
& birds above & clouds all going on without me
they do elucidate a letter to the sky,
i wanna be a part of it i’m not ready to die yet”
One of the disappointing tracks on the album is “Cyclone.” The band has played the song live for a few years now, and those who have heard recordings of the live performance are sure to notice the disparity between the versions. Beginning with a tinny sound and rising with harmonies that are almost too quiet, the track feels out of place on the album and clearly doesn’t quite match the sounds of the other tracks. Whether it can be boiled down to poor mixing or simply a different arrangement, the track loses some of its charm and power in translation.
Marigold entranced listeners with its sprawling six-minute ambient final track, purposefully added for the listener’s own reflection and to ease them out of the listening experience—but there is no such effort on 11:11. Instead, listeners will no doubt find themselves surprised when 11:11 abruptly ends after “11th Hour,” which features awkward lines like “it’s really going down” and leaves the listener surprised when the album cuts off.
While 11:11 may be a step backwards in terms of album cohesiveness and flow, it opens incredibly strong and provides many tracks that fans will certainly accept into their collection of favorites. It is not known how many more albums Pinegrove will record, with Hall indicating in 2020 that the band could possibly slow down while members pursue their own interests. However, it is evident that if Pinegrove is releasing music, their fans will be listening.