Pinegrove: Marigold (Rough Trade) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, September 29th, 2020  

Pinegrove

Marigold

Rough Trade

Jan 13, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


The fragrance of a marigold is anything but subtle. In fact, the flower's pungency is believed to have the strength to lure the dead back across the threshold to the living. Many of Evan Stephens Hall's songs on Pinegrove's third studio album, Marigold, seek that same path out of stasis and back to normalcy. And the band, which has at times been a revolving cast, here plays as a fully formed unit with their tightest recorded moments to date on display. Gone for the most part are the snippets of the prior Skylight in favor of their most developed songs. While the desperate edge sometimes present in Hall's vocals is replaced by a no less compelling, but not as punctuated lived-in feel that pushes Pinegrove further towards the alt-country border.

With only one song under the one-minute mark ("Spiral"), Marigold unfolds with a feeling of more substance than what came before it. But in a continued study of contrasts, the more intense passages of the album are balanced out by some room to breathe. All played within an organic arc of musical progression that continues to be anchored by Zack Levine's expert drum work. Given the album's more countrified approach, Josh Marré's bass lines become the glue that permeates the album even in its quieter passages, like the aptly named "Hairpin." 

Though there are no throwaways over the course of the album (only the radio ready "Phase" feels a little out of place), Marigold's greatest treasures are contained in a pair of three song passages. The first two songs on the album give way to the stark cadence of "The Alarmist" that Levine and Marré perfectly pace until the tube amp glow of a guitar solo cuts through after the first verse. The first of several isolationist tales, Hall decries "marigold in the garden, my heart's out in the garbage" at his most ragged-edge spot on the album while otherwise seeming to accept being able to imagine better times as the salve he seeks. The simple finger-picked "No Drugs" is sandwiched between two of the most powerful songs here for a necessary spot of respite. Arguably, the following song, "Moment," is the band's finest recorded track to date even if that crown is challenged a few songs later on. The tangle of guitars and crashing cymbals come in a flurry of precision that hem Hall in tightly until the outro provides a harmonic release. Seeking a way out of limbo ("I'm scared to know, but I need to know"), the song becomes a microcosm of the album itself as its tail is replicated and stretched out on the closing title track.

As strong as those songs are, the later trio of "Endless," "Alcove," and "Neighbor" are so musically cohesive as to be the shimmery mountain upon which Marigold's stake is claimed. If "Moment" showcases the band playing at their finest, "Endless" stands as the best song that Hall has written (and sung) to date. Stark in its lyrical simplicity and the band's first straight-up country song, it is a stunning and open-hearted take on treading water. Early on, Hall's recitation of "I woke up the same as yesterday, with no news of any kind" hits particularly hard and the song's prayerful close is just as gripping. Whether "Endless" gets covered by one of the Nashville elite before Hall sings it from the Ryman stage himself remains to be seen, but both need to happen. Though the beautiful "Alcove," penned by Hall and Marré, holds a little more gravitas than "No Drugs" it still provides a cushion upon which to land. What follows in "Neighbor" is wholly unexpected, but warmly welcomed. Aside from the song's heartfelt sympathy for the courage and determination of our natural friends, "Neighbor" is played out as a waltz. And not some modernized take, but a true sawdust on the hardwoods shuffler the likes of which hasn't been heard since one of the late great Doug Sahm's quieter moments. Endearingly odd, "Neighbor" makes for a perfect closer before Marigold sets off on the gossamer wings of its title track.

As strange as it may seem for a band operating out of rural New York to be the standard bearer for an alt-country revival it's not without precedent. Recorded about the same stone's throw distance from the Hudson River as The Band's Big Pink, Pinegrove's Amperland studio makes a fitting home base from which to make their moves. Peak No Depression-era bands like The Jayhawks and The Silos operated from less temperate climes as well. Not likely to be pinned down to a genre for any meaningful length of time, the band does credit three members with steel guitar work here and Marigold is awash in that hue. But regardless of whether you try and pigeonhole the bulk of the album into a category or assess it for the band's finest playing to date along with a clutch of Hall's tightest songs is of little matter. What is clear is that the album adds to Pinegrove's growing status as one of the most talented recording and touring bands in the land. Marigold brims with the promise that any sustained run of the band's current line-up will yield a multiplicity of their best moments. (www.pinegroveband.com

Author rating: 8.5/10

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