It would be hard to deny the connection between punk and folk music. Even if one were to ignore the myriad punk luminaries that started out howling before turning into the man who was too loud, the fact remains that both genres traditionally tell stories of the working-class, the oppressed, the rebellious and the tragic. If you widen the punk umbrella enough, it’s tempting to call Pinegrove’s excellent new album, Cardinal, the shape of emo to come.

Musically, it falls in line with the American emo style of recent groups like Hop Along and Laura Stevenson, pushing the style further into the realm of country music. Remove the vocals and Cardinal sounds like a Nashville product, not the work of a group of people from northern New Jersey. “Old Friends,” with its slide guitar and banjo accompaniment, is the kind of rock song that Band of Horses has been trying to make for the past five records – it sounds dusty, lived in, worn but loved. “New Friends” too, with its upbeat strum, could be a Jason Isbell song in another life. “Then Again,” the album’s most straightforward rock song, is the only thing here that sounds like it came from someone who might have listened to Saves the Day.

What establishes and sells the album’s alt-emo bona fides is the lyrics and singer Evan Hall’s vocals. Hall has a good voice for this, mostly singing with a slightly affected twang that he can elevate to a scream or a wail as needed (used to great effect, for example, on “Cadmium”). He brings an added level of maturity to lyrics that, granted, deal with some heavy shit despite maintaining the first-person perspective that is common to emo’s great balladeers. “Old Friends” recalls the death of a friend (ex-lover?), bottling the larger coping under the notebook-ready banner of “Every outcome is such a comedown.” “Aphasia” might well be a song about breaking through writer’s block, but it would be hard to blame anyone who wanted to appropriate lyrics like “One day I won’t need your love/ One day I won’t define myself by the one I’m thinking of” to fit whatever melodramatic collapse is happening in their life.

Cardinal is as well-sequenced an album as any this young year. The first four tracks work especially well together – the steady thump of “Old Friends” giving way to “Cadimum,” which maintains the giddyup only after slowing things down and spacing them out, which rolls into the straightforward “Then Again” and ends the arc with “Aphasia,” which captures all of these elements in one song. Fans of symmetry may appreciate that the album begins with “Old Friends” and ends with “New Friends,” the resignation of the former giving way to the (possibly foolish) optimism of the latter.

Pinegrove blurs the lines between what it’s playing and what its saying, but that works in Cardinal’s favor, resulting in one of the most comfortable, rewarding, repayable albums of the nascent alt-emo genre. However punk music and folk music continue to evolve around each other, this album may be remembered as a key building block in that future.

  • Rae Sremmurd: SremmLife 2

    SremmLife 2 should have been a washed-over retread of past success. Instead, it might be t…
  • Look Park: Look Park

    Look Park is a breezy, effortless collection of mid-tempo piano pop. …
  • Dikembe: Hail Something

    There’s no shame in recreating the ‘90s. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Rae Sremmurd: SremmLife 2

SremmLife 2 should have been a washed-over retread of past success. Instead, it might be t…