So I Guess Alt-Country is a Thing?

Giliann Karon

The emo scene is evolving. It used to be middle schoolers with jet black jagged hair writing Never Shout Never lyrics on their hands. In the early 2010s, it slid into bed with indie rock after a night of too many menthols and PBRs. Out popped greater. This new generation is just as sad and angry, but we‰’re able to express our emotions a little better. We still have our black eyeliner, but we‰’ve learned how to clean up our wings.

Pinegrove stands among the ranks of this strange “neo-emo‰” genre. You know, the ones with overly dedicated fans that sing about drinking beers with friend while giving each other stick-and-pokes (I‰’m looking at you, Brian Sella). Pinegrove mixes that same disgraced indie rock with country. Their songs are so guitar heavy that it tiptoes the border of something that a self-proclaimed “country boy‰” would listen to. I think it‰’s the raw emotion you hear in singer Evan Stephens Hall‰’s voice mixed with enough strumming to make your fingers bleed just from listening to it.

Along with a message telling they‰’re donating album proceeds to the Southern Poverty Law Center, their Bandcamp bio reads “music for the promotion of introspective partying!‰” Pinegrove‰’s music would play at an “introspective party,‰” if there was such a thing. I‰’m sure it plays at small house parties in which guests drink locally brewed beer and engage in a circle-jerk of leftist politics.

I suppose it‰’s because their messages cut a little deeper than other artists of their genre. For example, Hall discussed the meaning of the song “Aphasia‰” in a 2016 interview (to preface: aphasia is a neurological disorder that impedes one‰’s ability to communicate) “It‰’s a fear of mine that I won‰’t be able to express myself well enough, or that I‰’ll be somehow trapped inside myself.‰” He uses music as an extension of himself. It‰’s raw and bitter, but the pure honesty makes it impossible to stop listening. You‰’re compelled to listen to the next track and discover a little more of yourself.

Their first album, Everything So Far, establishes Pinegrove‰’s woodsy sound amidst the lyrics of existential crisis and love lost. The sound is what the title suggests. It‰’s a compilation of all 21 songs they‰’ve written thus far. The albums starts with “is there anyone here I know?‰” It‰’s a cry for help and a nod to the unfamiliarity of being twenty-something. This song, “New Friends‰” is jumpy and carefree, yet the line “end of summer and I‰’m still in love with her‰” comes crashing down, pushing you into a pit of self-realization. They find their footing near the middle of the album, with songs like “Palisade,‰” “Over My Shoulder,‰” and “Unison.‰” They have a consistent sound and the songs flow into each other. Pinegrove has found themselves and with their lyrics as a guide, hopefully you‰’ll find yourself too.

Their sophomore album, Cardinal, maintains the rootsy sound with an added sense of maturity. The first song “Old Friends‰” clings to the carefree lifestyle established in their first album, but the sense of maturity hints that this is all coming to an end. It contains a slightly different version of “Size of the Moon.‰” This one changes a few lines and sounds more smooth and polished. I‰’m a big fan of the song, but this version is stripped of the rawness that‰’s so unique about Pinegrove. They still keep the line “I don‰’t know what I‰’m afraid of.‰” It maintains their sense of uncertainty and youth. They‰’ve grown up, but they‰’re still the same Pinegrove. They don‰’t know where they‰’re going, but they‰’re learning to find their way.