Let’s get this out of the way early: ‘Marigold’ is the first album Pinegrove have written since singer Evan Stephens Hall became embroiled in controversy over his admission of sexual coercion.
This saw the band shelve their second record ‘Skylight’ and cease touring for a year, so that Hall could enter therapy and work towards a peaceful resolution with the wronged party. Following the eventual self-release of ‘Skylight’ and the band’s return to performing, they announced their signing to Rough Trade for the release of ‘Marigold’ and seem to be back on the track to the top that they were firmly on before hitting that speed bump.
Of course, there are plenty who will not have forgiven Hall, or at the very least will remain suspicious of his actions, and may well be unpicking ‘Marigold’ for comments or allusions to the controversy. If the listener is determined to link his lines to the incident, then they’ll find plenty of fuel for the fire here, starting from the opening line of the record: “Ignore the wreckage on the shoulder”; or more directly in the same song’s chorus: “I don’t know how / but I’m thinking it’ll all work out”... and plenty more beyond that.
However, this could be seen as a testament to Hall’s openness about his shortcomings and an ability to express these in universally relatable ways through song. His words are stirring without ever being hyper-specific, and can apply to any trying situation that he or the listener has experienced. There is a connection with him through his delivery, which maintains the modesty and gratitude of a person just genuinely trying to figure his way through life.
By keeping his humanity on show even a would-be hammy line like “marigold in the garden / my heart is out in the garbage” hits its mark with near-perfection.
This open and awed mindset is a shade that works perfectly for Pinegrove, whose countrified indie rock crackles with warmth and softness, casting Hall’s words with melodious compassion, like the glow of a fire on the face of their contemplative singer.
There is no shortage of demons on ‘Marigold’, most explicitly on ‘No Drugs’, where Hall makes the mortal commitment - “no drugs and alcohol today… I wanna feel good” - and Pinegrove shift perfectly in unison with that dichotomous proposition, lifting his mind from a stuffy bedroom out into a gleaming and windswept afternoon.
‘Endless’ finds him dwelling in the monotony of daily life, yelping in pain in the cathartic chorus, but ending it with the perfect salve: being held forever in the arms of someone he cares about.
This expression of love is Pinegrove’s main weapon, and hovers above all the songs on ‘Marigold’, waiting to overwhelm at the perfect moment. This is often romantic love, which is most beautifully expressed on the devotional ‘Hairpin’, where he declares his gratitude for his partner with “zinfandel eyes” for sticking with him through all of life’s complications. Equally, it could be love for living things, as displayed on the stunning ‘Neighbor’ where he describes his appreciation for the beauty of creatures great and small, and mourns their plight - meanwhile Pinegrove nimbly ebb and flow with the beauty and horror of his imagery.
‘Marigold’ ends with its title track, a six-minute instrumental of humming guitars layered into a golden blanket of sound. It seems to be the band signalling that this is a moment of reflection, to think back over the messages of the record and give thanks for all that life provides, no matter how many difficulties it has thrown up along the way. It’s certainly something that Evan Stephens Hall has had to do in the last couple of years, and he and Pinegrove seem to have come out of the darkness much stronger for it.
Words: Rob Hakimian
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