There’s an acute heartbreak when something you love doesn’t receive the recognition you know it deserves. It’s a dagger in your overflowing heart. This year, that album was Pinegrove’s debut Cardinal, a refreshing blend of folky indie-rock that failed to reach the radar of most of Daily Music’s staff. As Pinegrove sing themselves: “How come every outcome’s such a comedown?”
Cardinal is a collection of eight songs which embody the art of emotional construction in music. It explores self-doubt, uncertainty and the search for a voice. It achieves tenderness in baring these emotions, and over the 30-minute journey it fleshes them out through the dynamism in each individual track.
Pinegrove’s music is pure magic because it creates a sense of understanding, while feeling fresh and unfamiliar at the same time. The band and its music is a like brooding, misunderstood kid who you feel like you, and only you, completely understand — a poem personally written for your unraveling.
Pinegrove also knows exactly when to switch gears, uplifting with resounding bridges and coming down with tender melodies. The band is able to create imagery that’s vivid, but never fully tangible to the listener. It’s beauty comes from that feeling of unattainability, found in the music’s ambiguity.
Cardinal is full of these magical moments, where I was often completely consumed by the emotion the music translated. It’s shocking how perfectly their individual instruments and voices blend into harmony. Take “Aphasia,” for example: it climaxes with the pure gang vocals of “One day I won’t need your love / one day I won’t define myself by the one I’m thinking of,” delivering a stunning desire for self-worth in the form of an emotional sucker punch that is entirely relatable, but sonically unfamiliar.
The band’s true charm comes from their ability to use their indie vibe to make the insecurities of emo music accessible. You would expect lyrics like “I saw your boyfriend at the Port Authority / it’s a sort of fucked up place” in a pop-punk song, not on a country-esque indie rock album. Cardinal is transcendent in that it’s bred from punk sensibilities and within the punk scene, but is still well received by pretty much anyone with functional hearing.
Examined with a critical ear, Cardinal becomes a wonderful bouquet of sounds. Twinkly guitars dance amongst underpinning rhythm chords, tempos falter and hasten on quick whims, all underneath lyricism that is sometimes cryptic, and sometimes blunt to the point of surprise.
“Cadmium,” a song inspired by “I Send You this Cadmium Red, ” a book of correspondence between artists John Berger and John Christie, discusses non-verbal expression and it’s inner turmoil, along with the difficulty of self-expression and its subsequent vulnerability. The album cover is also inspired by the book, and Pinegrove borrows heavily from its theme of communication through art. Evan Stephens Hall cries out on the chorus, “Say what it is / it’s so impossible / but if I just say what it is / it tends to sublimate away.” At once poetic and straightforward, Hall’s lyrics are relatable at the most personal level. Hall wants to better express himself in his art, a daunting task until accomplished.
On Cardinal, Pinegrove achieves some of the highest level of emotional expression in music today. Through expertly crafted composition, reverberating vocals and starkly human lyrics, Pinegrove finds their niche and makes their voices heard. Most impressively, the album transforms what might be surprising and meticulous music into some of the most approachable tunes of 2016. It’s an album that should’ve had everyone’s radar going haywire.