Undefined Collective

Album Review

Pinegrove

Skylight

3.5

Brian Pope

October 17, 2018

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I’ve always found the indie rock scene to be the ultimate genre duality in the music world. Often it offers the most eclectic and adventurous while simultaneously the dullest and most derivative acts of modern music, but Pinegrove are a band that make such a dichotomy surprisingly difficult to organize. Although some may believe their studio debut Cardinal to be the first of their efforts, the band has actually been releasing music since 2010, aligning their nascent material into a compilation released in 2015 cheekily entitled Everything So Far. Through an impressively organic blend of midwest emo and alternative country, the New Jersey group has been able to not only subvert such compartmentalization in the saturated indie scene, but also establish themselves as a member of the flock, writing irresistibly catchy tunes and providing undeniably relatable themes to do much with the stability or lack thereof of relationships. Using such personable qualities, Pinegrove continues to build upon the introspective and naturalistic approach that made them such a unique act to begin with.

“Using such personable qualities, Pinegrove continues to build upon the introspective and naturalistic approach that made them such a unique act to begin with. “

Skylight kicks off with the plodding “Rings,” in which frontman Evan Stephens Hall prattles about the strength of his relationship with his significant other, wisely connecting wedding bands to the element tungsten in the first verse, a durable substance commonly used in wedding rings to symbolize a ceaseless bond. This comparison is cleverly expanded to the element’s use in light bulbs, and through the irresistible chorus Evan continues to relate the theme with implications that his partner has no intentions on staying for just a night, but is rather one that plans to stay for the indeterminable future. I absolutely love the modest but engaging instrumentation here that uses its dynamics to push forward the urgency of the lyrics, which naturally leads us into the next track “Portal.” The song is short and sweet, discussing the shifting equilibrium of relationships and the instability of who does “more” to provide for the bond itself. The refrain of “isn’t it lonely/lovely” on the chorus is absolutely stunning, really grabbing at the submissive sentiment of the song and the speaker’s inability to fully pay back the remarkable deeds of their significant other.
While relationships and introspection are significant themes on the album, we also get some tracks that are able to shake their insulated headspace in exchange for a more extroverted and gratuitous take, like on the song “Paterson & Leo.” Here we find Evan writing an ode to his two dogs, for which the track is named, and thanking them for coddling him as well their as role in promoting his emotional development. The slide guitars on this song are well-crafted, and I really enjoy the vocal performance that pulls the varying sounds together. “Angelina” fits this bill just the same, another fleeting track of the album that pays homage to a girl that became entrenched in Evan’s life, experiencing the same up’s and down’s that he does as a musician on the road simply through her desire to be with him. The remastered cut from their 2015 compilation has a nice, jaunty ring to it, and I quite enjoy the chorus which relates these themes in an engaging way. However, these short tracks, including the forgettable “Thanksgiving,” do serve as a low point for the album’s momentum, in that while brevity is certainly not inherently a negative attribute, there is a lack of substance or memorability that prevents these songs from really making their name known among the more valuable tracks that bookend the album.
Of course, later in the record we are driven right back into the head of the group’s frontman, with songs like the lachrymose “Darkness” which ingeniously is not only one of the best but actually one of the most danceable songs on the entire record. The shifting guitar riff and steady drum pattern here really accentuates Evan’s melancholic vocals, as he explores themes of depression (“Saying I’m happy when I’m not”) and existentialist ambition. I am completely enthralled with the refrain “Some people spend their whole lives looking,” and the vocalist’s self-aware acknowledgement of the frailty displayed underneath his anger. This imbalance, stemming from his self-categorization as a realist and the swell of anger he feels bubbling under the surface, provides the track with an incredibly palpable contrast that fully indulges in the song’s ambition and sentiment. And with such an incredible moment we are brought to the title track “Skylight,” a song which, after the many dim themes of the album provides a more optimistic oversight. The song encourages the listener that no matter their situation, their reaction to it is “natural,” and that they aren’t necessarily an outlier or an outcast for experiencing it the way they do. It’s a beautiful perspective to offer at the tail end of the album, and it does wonders to fully encapsulate the purpose for the stories and ideas presented across the previous songs.
So at the end of the day, this is a step forward for the New Jersey quartet. While Cardinal had undeniable standouts like “Old/New Friends” and “Aphasia,” here we find the group far more focused on a full-album scale, offering plenty of not only aesthetically pleasing moments, but also a plenty of nuggets of relatable lyricism that will assuredly bring the band’s already dedicated fanbase further inward. It isn’t the most consistent record on the whole, with plenty of short tracks that could almost be perceived as filler, but with Skylight Pinegrove really lock into their niche. In doing so, the band prove themselves a worthy as well as unique competitor in an indie rock game that has become so overrun with mediocrity in recent years. I look forward to watching their progression, and have to laud this record if nothing else for its ability to dial into the band’s already existing charisma.

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