Pinegrove - Skylight - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Pinegrove - Skylight

by Mark Moody Rating:8 Release Date:2018-09-28
Pinegrove - Skylight
Pinegrove - Skylight

Recorded and on the shelf for almost a year now, Pinegrove have finally self-released their sophomore full-length album, Skylight.  For those of us that have witnessed the connectedness the band has with their live audience and the ever-present empathy and seeming self-awareness in bandleader Evan Stephens Hall’s songs, it came as a shock to see him and, by default, his band in the midst of a microcosm of the sexual scandals taking place with more iconic public figures.  While it’s hard not to take satisfaction in the dismantling of those exhibiting a lifetime of arrogance, hubris, and emotional and physical abuse, Hall’s sudden revelation last November of his situation seemed to not match up with his outward character or reputation.  

Making things tougher for fans to decipher, there was not much of an explanation and certainly no sordid details to sift through for the court of public opinion.  There was rumor of a finished album (and even a title), but over the better course of a year little additional info on the situation came out.  Now on the heels of a Pitchfork article that provides some insight into what transpired without naming names that hadn’t already named themselves, it becomes more apparent that part of what ensued involved humans being humans.  Not to make light of the situation at all, but what has been revealed reminds me of the tagline of a Life in Hell cartoon:  “Mistakes were made”.  In this case, several parties, including Hall, have apparently owned up to their involvement and it seems a mutual agreement to move forward after time to contemplate and begin to heal has taken place.  

Whatever one’s view, if they have one, it does seem appropriate that Pinegrove have quietly self-released their latest work.  No conflated press releases blaring their triumphant return or forthcoming worldwide tour.  More of a restart and reentry akin to humbler beginnings.  As they did with their live recording, Elsewhere, all proceeds from Skylight (currently on Bandcamp) are being donated to three worthwhile charities.  Skylight and its release feel more of a dipping in of the toe than a dive forward.  

Of the album itself, it opens with one of its strongest tracks, ‘Rings’, which showcases a band brimming with confidence.  The band plays louder and looser with Hall feeling fully at home with his wholly enunciated rasp.  Zack Levine’s drumming has always been a key to Pinegrove’s nuanced sound, and he and bassist Adan Carlo sound organically in synch here.  With ten tracks in half an hour, there are many one to two minute long snippets that aren’t as fully formed.  Of these, having Nandi Rose Plunkett (Half Waif) on hand for harmonies on ‘Paterson & Leo’ elevates it over its brief span.  The re-recording of earlier track ‘Angelina’ benefits from the more impassioned reading akin to their live performances.  While the cricket chirps and warm harmonies of ‘Thanksgiving’ make for a winsome moment.   

Skylight shines brightest however on its longest tracks, with none more revelatory than the title song.  ‘Skylight’ starts with the simplest of melodies that invokes John Prine’s ‘Way Back Then’, which is Prine at his sparkliest and most nostalgic.  Hall sings revealingly of moving through shadow, but ultimately escaping upwards through the skylight - moving upwards in the context of the song feels hopeful but not a shedding of responsibility.  Sonically, in spite of the song’s beautiful simplicity, there are also notes of discord and a loose messiness about it that don’t overtake the song but echo human imperfections.  It has a respectful and hymn-like air about it that feels appropriate for the moment at hand.  Preceding ‘Skylight’, ‘Easy Enough’ kicks in at the band’s hardest and makes for a great anthem, while ‘Darkness’ reveals some poppier leanings at its beginning.  Skylight fades out on a lovely country weeper in ‘Light On’, where Hall is accompanied by Doug Hall on piano and vocals.  The song soars ever upwards as it goes to a gentle close.

The last year has undoubtedly resulted in the loss of fans; some feeling uncertain of their footing; others feeling penance and growth have been achieved; and Skylight also will bring new fans unaware of its origin.  It’s impossible to take Skylight’s release out of the fabric of the year in which it is woven, and that’s as it should be.  And even though on its own Skylight could have come as furtherance of the band’s earlier trajectory, it is ultimately a tentative and quiet step forward from pain caused, lessons learned, grace given, and is all the more human for it.                     

Overall Rating (2)

5 out of 5 stars
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