Hello, all you Thrill-seekers out there!
It is my distinctly distilled pleasure to (re?)introduce to you a band that, when I arrived as a first year in 2010, rocked the hallowed halls of the Horn Gallery like no other: a band of (currently) Montclairian minstrels that go by the name Pinegrove. Led by Evan Stephens Hall, who graduated in 2011, and featuring the ethereal talents of fellow ’11er Nandi Plunkett (who recently released a remarkable EP as Half Waif), the band rocketed out of Gambier to release an album of sparkling alt-rock, Meridian, and take on the New York/New Jersey music scene.
After 18 months of (almost) total silence, we have been treated to a new release of recordings by this esteemed musical collective: a four-track powerhouse entitled “&.” Hit the jump for listen/download links, and for a more circumspective review of the EP.
Before I had ever been to the actual pinegrove, I was bumping Evan’s debut EP, Mixtape One. Layers of shifting, twinkling guitar lines and nighttime cricket sounds masked lines of enigmatic poetry and top-notch songcraft, already readily apparent on this first release. Watching Nandi join Evan for their first live performances together was like watching those songs split into fractal butterfly symmetry, the melodies now practically soaring on updrafts of glorious harmony.
To be honest, though, Meridian didn’t grab me that much at first when it came out in February of last year. I think I was still riding the wave that started cresting when I heard “Mather Knoll” and “The Metronome” for the first time and could only ever listen to those two songs like they were the definitive soundtrack to my Kenyon experience, and as a result I didn’t really give the rest of the album a fair chance. Now that I look back I wasn’t paying enough attention to the lyrics, or the guitars and drums skipping around nimbly on “Morningtime” – but that’s a story for another day.
Now first off, & doesn’t sound quite as polished as Meridian. Though both owe mastering credits to Steve Skinner, the drums are murkier on the EP, more reverb-soaked, and the whole texture seems to blend together more: it’s harder to pick out individual parts by ear than on the full-length, and the words in particular are sometimes tricky to make out (fortunately, the digital album comes with lyrics for each track).
That said, the EP packs quite a wallop for 4 songs. While still sounding like the Pinegrove we know and love, there’s more banjo this time around; more uneven, shifting time signatures; there’s even a slow breakdown on “Unison” that could have been the hook for an R&B slow-burner back in the ’80s. Standout track “V” features Evan’s best lyric writing to date, in my opinion, complete with melodies that shatter the ceiling. English majors take note: there’s everything from alliteration (“I’ve been avoiding the void”; “broken branches in your eyelids / and your iris: a violent violet”) to embittered, subtle barbs (“you only know what you notice / and no, you don’t know me”) and bizarre epithets (“bloodbrother ampersand”). These are lyrics that are meant to be sat with, to be left stewing between your ears while your grinning brain picks apart the abstract, progressive instrumentation.
There are grooves here, to be sure, but more often than not they slow down, stop, then start again with a different feel. The whole thing feels disjointed, individual episodes of self-dissection weaving in and out of visceral, haunting imagery, yet there’s a deliberate continuity underlying the whole EP, which you can catch if you listen hard enough. Images recur, a through-line begins to appear: the four songs as a mess of puzzle pieces finding their way back together amidst washes of angular harmony, sections concatenated together with more than one lyrical nod to that perennial (and titular) conjunction, the ampersand.
Equal parts roots-rock grit and math-rock experimentation, Pinegrove has crafted a sound all their own in the years since they took flight from Kenyon, and this new release is no exception to the rule set by their past two. You can download & for a “pay-what-you-like” kind of deal over at their Bandcamp, and make sure to “like” them on Facebook for more titillating updates about shows and such!