Subdued, intimate alt-country penmanship
Childhood friends Evan Stephens Hall and Zack Levine reconvene with the regular cast of characters for Pinegrove’s LP follow-up to 2019’s Skylight. If that album was a well-written set of songs with a bit of homage to ‘90s alternative, touched with a bit of emo for good measure, then their newest release, Marigold, is a hefty dosing of their unique take on ‘90s alt-country. With that comes a quieter sound, filled with subtler accompaniment and a bigger emphasis on harmonies, as well as instruments like piano and steel guitar varieties. Most of all, Hall’s intimate songwriting is a definite touch above past efforts.
The opener, “Dotted Line,” can be viewed as a soft introduction to the new musical approach the band undertakes on most of Marigold. Punky guitar chops to open, and Hall’s angsty, emo-infused voice quickly blend with tight harmonies so muted, that without attention, they seem to be nothing more than a thickening of the chorus vocals. “Spiral” follows and understays its welcome, but does its intended job as a segue to the meat of Pinegrove’s newest offering.
“The Alarmist” opens simply with a well-defined progression and quickly slides into a very different vocal timbre than that heard on “Dotted Line.” Understated slide guitar, purposeful loud/quiet dynamics and a great melody, combine to make this one of the album’s best. Not to be outdone by its predecessor, “No Drugs” takes those ideas a bit further through a softly picked intro, backed by Levine’s unselfish drumming that never takes center stage, yet holds much of the set’s rhythm together. Here, Hall sounds very close to a modern-day Craig Fuller (Pure Prairie League). The accompaniment is colorful, but not so bright as to overshadow the songwriting. “Moment” is an evenhanded blend of the alt-’90s, Pinegrove sound and this newer incarnation. It is an uptempo tune with respect to the previous two, and the unselfish outro should garner a few listenings.
“Hairpin” is most notable as the first song on the album where Nandi Rose Plunkett’s vocal contributions are readily apparent. Subsequent listenings will reveal earlier importance to harmonies, but they rightly shine on this track. The same can be said for the intermingling piano and slide-work that don’t stick out but are arranged in such a way as to do maximum service to the song. “Alcove” revisits songwriting patterns previously heard on the album. When the band has a great progression and melody, they want them to be heard. To accomplish this, they keep things simple and lead with these attributes, much like they do with “The Alarmist.” However, the focal point of this track is the hopeful lyric, “I’ll go if you want, alcove in the dark. Yellow marigold, all folded up in the front.” The folksy painted “Neighbor” features perhaps the best chorus on the album and deftly blends into the instrumental, eponymous closer, “Marigold,” which while lengthy, has an almost hymnal quality about it that justifies ending the album with this sort of risky track.
Marigold might not be for everyone. However, the songwriting is stellar and the arrangements are sublime and unselfish considering the talent that exists within. Fans of alt-country will find a new aspect to enjoy upon each spin, and longtime fans of Pinegrove will hopefully relish the matured sound that carries a lot of promise that the group will continue expanding their musical horizons.