There’s no way to listen to Pinegrove‘s latest album without being aware of a particular elephant in the room. In 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement inspired by the unmasking of Harvey Weinstein, Pinegrove’s lead singer Evan Stephens Hall announced, via a long and rather vague Facebook post, that he had been accused of ‘sexual coercion’.
The band immediately placed themselves on hiatus, forthcoming tour dates were cancelled and the release of the band’s third album, Skylight, was put on hold. After about a year it was released, and the band began to step gingerly back into the spotlight. So now comes Marigold, the first album written after those allegations, and their first for Rough Trade. As Hall is the sole writer of all but one song on the album, it’s impossible not to listen to without relating these songs to those events.
Musically at least, not much has changed in Pinegrove’s world. Marigold contains the kind of laid-back Americana that anyone familiar with the band’s previous three albums will know. Whether it will fill you up with enough passion to have the band’s logo tattooed on your skin (as has happened with some fans in the past) is debatable, but the arrangements are pleasant enough to listen to.
Opening track Dotted Line is ostensibly about Hall driving into Manhattan on a chilly day, but lines like “ignore the wreckage on my shoulder” and “I’m thinking it’ll all work out” hint at the troubles that have engulfed him. It’s easy to have a sinking feeling at this point that Marigold could turn out to be “whiney man whining about things he shouldn’t have done”, but thankfully things do pick up from here.
No Drugs is a lovely acoustic ballad that, as the title suggests, is a paean to sobriety and clear thinking: “No drugs and alcohol today, I want to remember everything we talk about.” Even better is the track which follows it, Moment, which almost pulsates with energy and an affecting vocal from Hall, especially on lines like “damnity I’m scared to know, but I need to know”.
There’s a longing to the R.E.M.-soundalike of Spiral, which is made up entirely of amphibrachs (three syllable lines, with the stress in the middle) which is all the more effective for being less than a minute long, and the album centrepiece Endless has a cathartic quality, especially on the closing lines “when this is over, hold me forever”.
Sadly, there’s also a fair bit of filler on Marigold as well – Neighbor’s rather lumpy country rock drags, and the closing title track is a six minute instrumental seemingly designed to lull the listener to sleep before the album ends. When Hall hits top form, he sounds truly impressive, but when he’s below-par, his band just sounds like a Poundland version of Death Cab For Cutie.
There’s a danger throughout Marigold of looking too deeply into every lyric, and of searching for meaning in each song. Those who come to Pinegrove without knowing the backstory will find an album of pleasant alt-country that may not hit the heights of their back catalogue, but feels like a tentative step back to normality.