Pingrove – Cardinal Review

The effort of trying to convert alt-country music into a more rock infused sound is hardly a new idea (see Ryan Adams and Ben Kweller). The slacker indie style that Pinegrove bring to ‘Cardinal’ makes it on occasion sound rather ordinary despite the more unique country elements they have. Indeed, the character the album’s songwriter Evan Stephens Hall has created is very similar to that of many other indie bands; that of the well-read lovelorn teenager. Even musically the LP is a little routine. Although the blending of traditional country instruments like the pedal steel on occasion comes off very well but isn’t a significant enough part of the album to warrant the praise that ‘Cardinal’ has been getting. In general, Pinegrove’s ‘Cardinal’ has been very well received. It has an immensely impressive critical rating of 85 on metacritic.com putting it among some prestigious company; a similar rating to that of David Bowie, Pusha T, Savages and Grimes.

Cardinal opens with ‘Old Friends’ which finds the act in a reflective mood as they look back on the happy times they had with their ‘old friends’ before they got “too caught up in their own shit”. The spikey bassline is offset against twangy banjo’s and expanding pedal steels; traditional indie meets traditional country. In many ways this is symbolic of the album as a whole. Though it successfully combines these two elements it doesn’t really feel like anything hugely new has been created.

‘Then Again’ catches the band in a more fun mood characterised by its quick spiky pop-punk bassline and messy clashing guitars as Hall asks the listener to “try one more time with feeling, it’s easy”. Although the track is unmistakably catchy, musically it traverses the same, well-tread ground that indie acts of the previous decades have already done. The up-beat attitude of ‘Then Again’ is then contrasted with the more sombre ‘Aphasia’. It is here that the band better blend in the country elements into their overarching indie sound. The slower pace of the song undoubtedly helps this process, as does the Hall’s impressive lyrics and voice (sounding much better in this context). ‘Cardinal’ ends on a more optimistic note with “New Friends”. The song starts with what it is clearly a Ryan Adams style opening before it transgresses into a fairly routine indie style track.

Given the praise this album has received it fell immensely short of my expectations. Although this review may sound fairly negative, the album is still a good effort for the act. There are undoubted strengths in the album too, the use of the pedal steel and banjo are interesting and should be utilised more if they want to create a more unique sound.

Pinegrove – Cardinal = 7/10

Callum Christie

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