As a longtime member of the “I listen to everything but country” club, I was hesitant when a friend of mine recommended Pinegrove. Although its genre can be hard to define, most critics describe the band as something to the effect of “alt-country indie rock.” However, upon listening to the first song on Cardinal, I knew Pinegrove was about to become one of my favorite bands. Using a combination of folksy twang, indie rock influences and emotional vocals, Cardinal earns a spot on my list of the greatest folk rock albums of all time.
Considering the album is bookended by tracks titled “Old Friends” and “New Friends,” it makes sense that this would be an album largely about friendship. “Old Friends” expresses regret for mistakes made in past friendships and relationships, with the lyrics vowing to do better in the future: “I should call my parents when I think of them / Should tell my friends when I love them.” It’s lines like these, especially when contrasted with lines like, “I saw Leah on the bus a few months ago / I saw some old friends at her funeral,” that remind us how short life is and how our relationships to others are the most important thing in life.
With just eight songs and a runtime of a bit over 30 minutes, Cardinal tells an incredible story of personal development in a limited time. “Aphasia,” the fourth track on the album, offers emotionally vulnerable and raw vocals with beautiful lyrics. Towards the end, the singer’s vocals almost turn into a scream, and this sacrifice of technical quality for emotion certainly pays off. Pinegrove uses this technique not as a crutch but sparingly so as to maintain its power and weight within the song.
“New Friends” offers a more optimistic look toward the future but not unrealistically so. The refrain “I resolve to make new friends” showcases the development over the course of the album from focusing on past mistakes to looking to the future. Lead singer Evan Stephens Hall admits his mistakes of the past, and although he acknowledges that he’s still in love with a girl from the past, he decides to move on and develop new friendships. It’s difficult to admit to your own mistakes, but Hall’s raw, honest vocals and lyrics portray a level of relatability that most wouldn’t initially choose to reckon with.
For those not typically interested in the genres of folk or country, apprehension is understandable. However, Pinegrove’s fusion of elements from these genres with those of indie rock creates a sound that even diehard rock fans can find digestible and pleasant. Pinegrove songs are ones you can sing around a campfire late at night, and Cardinal tells a relatable story of acknowledging mistakes and trying to be better. All it takes is an open mind to be able to appreciate the beauty of this short, beautiful album.