It’s that time of the year again! The weather gets colder, drinks get warmer, and indie rock bands shed their bright pastel colors for more earthy tones. The flannel weather of the fall creates a yearning among indie listeners for a certain kind of warm and comforting sound. Montclair, New Jersey natives, Pinegrove, are the champions of that sound. Thankfully, they just released their sophomore album, Skylight, just in time for the season to begin.
Vocal harmonies are the power behind the release. Pinegrove lead singer and lyricist, Evan Stephens Hall, is accompanied by Zack Levine and Nandi Plunkett on the backend. The trio blends their voices together in such a way that evokes memories of friend’s singing around a fall bonfire. “Light On” showcases the angelic side of the voices of the band, while “Easy Enough” highlights the band’s ability to create a more emo version of the California sound of the 1970’s. It is hard to find a chorus on the album that is not supported by three to four background voices. Their harmonies design full chords to emphasize Hall’s powerful and thought-provoking writing. These voices also strip back every once in a while to let Hall’s country twang cover his Kurt Cobain vocal essence and howl.
Pinegrove was founded by Hall and Levine, a guitar player and drummer. With that being said, there is a focus on the two instruments, because of the duo. Hall and lead guitarist, Sam Skinner, both highlight their tremendous playing ability by making their complicated leads or whimsical ad-libs blend into the background of the tracks. The guitar leads paint over distorted chords in order to create a visual of a leafy autumn plagued by a harsh wind.
Almost every song is accented with either a lap steel guitar drone or a driving rock beat provided by Levine, courtesy of his Grohl or John Bonham heavy hitting style. Even on more relaxed numbers, like “Portal” and “Patterson & Leo”, Levine’s drums are prominent. Last, but not least, there is an abundance of middle sounding keys and synths. Between the dancing piano line of “Light On” or the fuzzy overdrive on Plunkett’s synth on “Intrepid”, these middle voices fill in an already large sound.
Pinegrove has prided themselves on their DIY attitude. This attitude has carried over to their lo-fi recording process. Similar to their previous recordings, the album was recorded literally in-house by the band. The full release was recorded on a laptop inside of a house, in upstate New York, owned by the band’s members. This process of recording in more natural settings is something bands, like Led Zeppelin and Red Hot Chili Peppers, used to create some of their best works. The only difference between Pinegrove’s process and the process of rock royalty is time and experience. Skylight has some minor production flaws, but nothing that will bother the regular listener. The production of the album is documented in the series “Command+S” on YouTube.
“Darkness”, “Easy Enough” and “Light On”
Skylight is a logical progression from the release that broke them, 2016’s Cardinal. Hall and Levine took on the herculean task of following up a critically acclaimed debut album and knocked it out of the park. Skylight has depth on a lyrical level, as well as, a wall of sound on every song with over distorted guitars, swirling synths, and thunderous drums. However, there is still a little to be desired from the album. Three songs, on the eleven-song album, are less than two minutes long. A few of the songs feel half-finished, because of their short length and simple lyrics. These minor things might actually delight some listeners.
All in all, I think Skylight is a late candidate for the album of the year. From front to back, the album provides the listener with a journey of growing through a winter’s hibernation and introspection. Darkness will come and go, but there is always sun from the skylight.