Know thyself. A short phrase, but a lifelong journey. Evan Stephens Hall, frontman for the indie-rock-neo-country-slightly-emo-but-in-a-positive-sort-of-way band Pinegrove, which hails from Montclair, New Jersey, is committed to the quest for self-awareness. Fittingly, Pinegrove’s full-length debut, the excellent Cardinal (February 2016 via Run for Cover Records) provides ample replay value for listeners who will consistently discover more and more about the fluid movement of the music as well as the elusive and verbose lyrics upon undertaking the journey of Cardinal for the third, fourth, or fiftieth time. The labyrinthine nature of the album never exhausts itself. The band has successfully created the fully functioning and alive world of music in Cardinal that Hall often refers to in interviews as something he admires in other artists and aspires to himself.
Listen: “Aphasia” – Pinegrove
Perhaps nowhere on the album exemplifies the ever-giving nature better than that of the deeply affecting “Aphasia,” a four-and-a-half minute ode to the unexplainable. At first glance it is clearly a relationship song, but as the album works as a whole, it is also so much more. It attacks with abandon the crippling feeling of not having the words to say to a loved one, but the lyrics and soaring sound seem to easily accommodate an interpretation that embodies being speechless in the face of life at large. “Aphasia” grasps at thin air, eventually leading the song to fall into the abyss, but the abyss turns out not to be a dark and scary pit of doom, but rather a multi-colored journey of sweet electric-guitar-ripping abandon. Make no mistake, there is a pit that we are all perpetually falling into, but if you just open your eyes, you may notice that there are some beautiful things to be seen on the way. You may even be able to fall with a loved one by your side.
The music of Pinegrove is unabashedly positive, often paradoxically so, as can be heard on “Aphasia.”
one day i won’t need your love
one day i won’t define myself by the one i’m thinkin of
and if one day i won’t need it
one day you won’t need it
Hall successfully turns an agonizing Break-Up into a breath with fresh lungs. And on a larger level, the track somehow redeems the horrifying revelation that we all spend our lives crippled by aphasia, which as defined by dictionary.com is “the loss of a previously held ability to speak or understand spoken or written language, due to disease or injury of the brain”. Hall oscillates back and forth between clarity and complete confoundedness, but he anchors himself in his assured hope that one day he will be free from his vocal disease and that even now there will be moments of clear breathing if he can manage to avoid the distractions of life.
nah but what you’ve got was in your reaches all along
plus one day you’ll be reaching for me and i’ll be gone
to help remind myself I wrote this little song
As someone who has decided to spend his life writing songs for a living, Hall possesses a sincere solace in music. It serves as an outlet for him as well as a way to document important revelations and reminders that he does not know how else to reconcile. And on “Aphasia,” we hear Hall and Pinegrove at their best, taking listeners on a grand journey of introspection and self doubt only to be left in the solace of jamming out to a song that seems to dissolve into the ether in a manner that is not escapist, but rather suggests that there is an alternative way to dissolve, not kicking in denial, but with surrender to the inevitable and an embrace of the available.
stick around I’m thinking things’ll be alright
newly delivered won’t you live with me tonight
A lover, a friend, a family member – the sad truth is that nothing will last forever, but if you are able to parse yourself apart from these things and realize your singular place in the world, you may just find yourself newly delivered from the chains of self criticism, if only for a moment, and lost in the sweep of the music. Things’ll be alright.