Trying to move forward, but stuck in the past.
Following a turbulent hiatus, Evan Stephens Hall and Zack Levine have brought the band back together, stepping back into the indie folk rock scene to apprehensive fanfare. A weighty burden rests on the shoulders of Marigold, which represents Halls’ first body of work since the aftermath of accusations of "sexual coercion" directed towards the songwriter in 2017.
The alleged victim (who revealed to The New Yorker that she was “a member of the band´s crew” during her relationship with Hall) described the abuse as taking the form of “verbal and contextual pressure” and ultimately requested that Pinegrove took a year off touring out of respect for the severity of the situation. The band then went effectively 'radio silent' for a full year, shelving their third LP Skylight until 2018, despite it being in a finished state. Fast forward to 2020 and Pinegrove have returned with a full tour and a new album under their belts. Perhaps Hall wishes to walk the path of redemption, but, much like the titular song that concludes this band´s latest album, there is a distinct lack of resolution to be found since the fallout of those accusations made three years earlier. To me, this album represents the settling of dust, with an older but much wearier Hall emerging between his solipsistic lines.
Marigold is an album comprised of juxtaposed elements. At times simultaneously both Pinegrove´s loudest and quietest statement to date, Hall seems more self-reflective than ever, but rather than this translating into the confessional shouts and cries that encapsulated Pinegrove’s earlier efforts, Evan seems far more withheld in his singing this time around. Similarly, Levine is still a pleasure to listen to, keeping his drum patterns tight and varied, but something has gone from the formula – the drums feel more considered, almost restrained, as if one skew moment of daring could bring the curtains crashing down on the whole band. Despite all this, Marigold is still enjoyable to listen to, it just feels a little reserved. Songs like 'Endless', 'Moment' and 'Phase' feel like a genuine attempt from the band to get back to the indie-folk, emo roots of their discography. 'Alcove' feels like it could sit right alongside earlier songs from the Everything So Far era – endearingly delicate yet resilient in its final moments but unfortunately ending as it gets interesting, leaving it feeling more than a little undercooked.
This theme of holding back is pretty much evident through the entire album. As I approached this review, I hoped not to press too much on the circumstances surrounding this album, attempting to see the album removed from the allegations against Hall, but the more I listened, the more this record felt entirely like a product of those circumstances. All at once, Marigold feels mature, delicate, heartfelt, impassioned, doubting, hesitant. A self-confessed book worm, Hall is no stranger to flexing his poetic chops, as seen in songs such as 'Spiral', where he sings in amphibrachs, ‘You're mourning / The loss of / A feeling / A part of / A process / Of living’. Hall has proven himself as a competent lyricist in the past, but with these quite vague illustrations of his inner monologue the clarity of this album's songwriting feels all the more disappointing from a writer typically unafraid of bearing it all. Some of Pinegrove’s most treasured lyrics are as simple as “one day I won’t define myself by the one I’m thinking of’. In light of the events preceding this album’s genesis, it feels like Hall has forgotten what he once wrote down, and his ability to compose lyrics that truly resonate has unfortunately been smudged on this record.
Marigold is a good album and I am prepared to defend that statement. But equally it is an album that is lacking– its heart is in the right place and you can tell each one of Pinegrove’s members is trying desperately to walk the line of being respectful while trying equally not to be forever tainted by scandal. Unfortunately, this record demonstrates that the confidence has been knocked. While Pinegrove may be technically better musicians, composers and writers than they were three years ago, what made this band special was their ability to stand in a room in front of a thousand adoring fans and profess their deepest intimacies without fear. I can’t help but feel that Marigold marks the end of that era.
- 6.5 -
'Spiral', 'The Alarmist', 'Endless'
Tom Keogh is a 21 year old English Literature student at King’s College, London. He enjoys making music, visiting the bin and supporting shit football teams because he got into the sport late.
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