Gilman Music Radar: Alt-Country

Pinegrove is featured in the photo (above). This article is an editorial.

By: Neddy White

This column will be about bands that the average Gilman student might not have heard of or really looked deeper into before. I will pick albums from bands I think would be accessible and enjoyable for anyone who likes rock music and give personal opinions about them.

When most Gilman students hear anything about country music, they assume that it is not for them. Alt-country, however, the genre into which bands such as Wilco and My Morning Jacket fall, takes a huge step away from country and moves more into rock. Alt-country mixes the slower and lazier paces of country with the instruments and style of alternative rock, creating an interesting mix of the two genres.

An up-and-coming alt-country band called Pinegrove released their first complete album, Cardinal, in 2016. Cardinal ties the feelings of incompleteness left over from their previous compilation album, Everything so Far, into a solid, if short, thirty minutes of happy, terrifically paced, and unexpectedly introspective alt-country.

The record launches out of the starting gate with “Old Friends,” an upbeat opener plucked from their compilation album. “Old Friends” is a callback to their earlier works, as it is part of Everything so Far. At first, the song seems shallow, as if it was made to simply be a catchy tune. However, when you take a deeper look at the lines, the true nature of the song reveals itself. Lyrics like “I saw Leah on the bus a few months ago/I saw some old friends at her funeral” or “I should call my parents when I think of them/Should tell my friends when I love them” stand out to make this song a regretful reflection about losing touch with loved ones from the past, showing off Pinegrove’s ability to write meaningful songs while keeping the great catchy tunes intact.

The next song, “Aphasia,” is the standout song of Cardinal.This single is about a loss of communication abilities, trapping a person’s thoughts within themselves, and not being able to express oneself. Lyrics like, “Just when I thought I had this pattern sorted out/Apparently my ventricles are full of doubt, now.” In my mind, this line is explaining how lead singer Evan Hall has a good idea, but second guesses himself and gets writer’s block. Hall wrote this song as a very personal window into his own fears as a musician. It is a description of any creator’s nightmare, and it provides a great thematic anchor for the album.

One of the two songs in Cardinal that were in their compilation album, Everything so Far, “Size of the Moon” serves both as a great intro to the final song in the album and a good stand alone. As the most pessimistic song in Cardinal, I see “Size of the Moon” as another song about the fear of loss of creativity, but this time in a specific scenario. Hall calls back to his developmental years as a musician where he had an excess of ideas floating around in his head, while in the song he describes a present where his mind is blank of new ideas. The darker nature of the lyrics leads to angrier sounding vocals and heavier guitars, but still manages to keep the carefree feel of the band.

The last song in the album, “New Friends,” is not as much of a callback to the album opener as its title would suggest, but rather a new idea. On the surface, the song is about getting over a broken heart, and making new friends. However, when looked at in the context of “New Friends” being the closer of their first complete album, it could be a reference to forgetting about the band’s comfort zone, moving into new frontiers. “New Friends” wraps up the album, acting as the second bookend, with the first being “Old Friends.” It leaves the listener with a smile on their face and a song stuck in their head, carrying out the purpose it seems Pinegrove had intended for Cardinal.