Pressing play on a Pinegrove playlist is like flipping through the pages of one of Virginia Woolf’s greatest classics. The New Jersey-based band pulls inspiration from both lyrically-sound musicians and literature. Singer songwriter Evan Stephens Halls could be compared with the likes of Leonard Cohen.
Pinegrove is a band listeners can rely on. They tend not to stray from their distinct sound, aesthetic and style. They have a niche—an acoustically-driven country-folk-rock sound that often starts soft and grows progressively louder—but somehow, they’re not the type of band whose songs all sound the same.
Fronted by Hall, whose writing goes far beyond the limits of throwing out song verses, Pinegrove becomes a vessel for bringing voice to the simplicity and the complexity of life. Hall’s knack for expressing complex thoughts in the simplest of terms makes Pinegrove who they are. They’re relatable because they’re in touch with a multitude of emotions and because their words empower their listeners. With their fifth album 11:11, out Jan. 28 through Rough Trade Records, Hall continues to captivate listeners with his poetic lyrics. But this time his words carry more weight because he delivers a call to action and holds people accountable for supporting one another.
“Real music” is supposed to evoke emotion and serve a purpose behind the sound. Rock music has always provided a powerful avenue to connection. True, gritty rock embodies a search for escape from the noise of the world. But it requires putting one’s entire heart and soul into art. Everyone’s interpretation of what type of music holds meaning is based on their own experiences, but when a songwriter like Hall is writing with such introspection, it’s impossible to deny the power it holds.
Hall’s lyrics have often forced listeners to step outside themselves and truly examine who they are, what they feel and how their actions contribute to the world around them. 11:11 includes a vast range of emotions: anger, grief, confusion, love and contentment. But through the variety of emotions, the album cohesively envisions community, unity and collectivity. It is not one thing, as real emotions never have just one meaning. The album offers the space for listeners to connect and feel these emotions without interruption.
Pinegrove is known for their slower acoustic sound, but on 11:11 they tend to amp it up a notch throughout, blending their typical flow with heavier instrumentation. The album’s opening song “Habitat” is their longest song to date, reaching nearly seven minutes in length. It’s the album’s intro to Pinegrove’s ability to rock hard and loud—it starts smooth and low, but Hall quickly transitions to screaming the lyrics as the guitar, drum and bass lineup storm in with force. It perfectly depicts the band’s range as they diverge from the tunes listeners might expect. At the halfway mark, a smooth and quiet interlude plays out as birds coo amid other sounds of nature.
The album’s larger message addresses life’s biggest questions, ranging from how to deal with the climate crisis to the meaning of human existence. As rock musicians typically do, Pinegrove confronts major issues and reflects on them in ways anyone can understand. In the song “Swimming,” Hall emotionally belts the lyrics “Sputter in and to the moving trees / And birds above and clouds all going on without me / They do elucidate a ladder to the sky / I wanna be a part of it / I’m not ready to die yet.” He’s honest and vulnerable. He doesn’t strain to make it too complicated. He simply conveys how it truly is to yearn to feel something—to search for a reason to stay.
At the beginning of the record, as “Habitat” slowly moves toward an instrumental outro, the album quickly changes into a heavy, guitar-driven departure from the band’s folky tendencies with “Alaska.”
The rest of the album follows a slower pace, but with more intricate guitar work than usual. It’s not forceful—rather it’s colorful and full of hooks. Following their live album Amperland, NY, which was released last year, 11:11 delivers a crisper sound, while not diluting what makes Pinegrove a great live band. They have that natural ability to make their songs sound different each time you hear them. It’s never too overly polished, and by self-producing with mixing by Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie, the album falls in that perfect spot of crisp production and real instrumental power.
Pinegrove’s sound has often been compared with the late ’90s, early 2000s country-punk collective The Weakerthans. More notably, Hall has mentioned in interviews that the love he and drummer Zack Levine’s share for My Morning Jacket’s album Okonokos kick-started their musical endeavors. That band, as well as folk-rock and emo projects such as Bon Iver, Wilco, Death Cab for Cutie and Built to Spill, have been major influences on Pinegrove’s direction. All have something in common: an emphasis on emotional expression.
The band kicks off their 2022 North American tour for 11:11 on Feb. 16 in Boston at the House of Blues. Follow the band and check out their tour dates here.
Start with Pinegrove’s song “Alaska” off their album 11:11 and you’ll hear a guitar-focused intro similar to the likes of The Weakerthans song “Aside” from early 2000.
Pay attention to the lyrics in each song. There is always a deeper meaning behind Hall’s twangy range between melodies and shouts.
Kendall Polidori is The Rockhound, Luckbox’s resident rock critic. Follow her reviews on Instagram @rockhound_luckbox and Twitter @rockhoundlb.