I walk around campus early one January morning, feeling the brisk air sting my face while I clench my hands, trying to keep the blood rushing through them. I feel fine. It’s really hard to see what’s great about the aesthetic of the East Coast during the winter, though. Everything looks like the color was beat out of it. Even Richardson’s red brick facade looks drab if you’re far enough away from it. The trees are ancient creatures with sagging eyes and fragile fingers–perhaps, they’re the ones giving everyone the sense of intellectual superiority they seem to be carrying into the second semester. However, engaging my ears and listening to what’s around me (forgetting for a moment that they’re starting to lose their feeling) brightens things up a bit. The sound of the breeze lulls me; the rustle of the dead leaves, crisp but quiet; my lonely footsteps dissipating into the quad as I emerge from Prospect Garden.
Then I put in my earbuds. I’ve begun to entrench myself in new music to escape the piles of homework that chase me around as I finally get up Elm Drive back to my dorm room. Records that have comforted me the most so far are the ones that sonically match this dismal atmosphere. And the one that has really caught my ear this year is Pinegrove’s Marigold. Pinegrove are native New Jersians fronted by songwriter and guitarist Evan Stephens Hall, and backed by bassist Megan Michelle Bird, guitarist Nick Levin, drummer Zack Levin, and keyboardist Nandi Rose Plunkett. Marigold is their fourth studio attempt–and that’s all the background info you need to know.
God, this record. Its title is striking; describing the refreshingly warm sonics of the music while also evoking memories of short-lived college romances like C41 stained negatives. Hall’s voice is distinct. He sings all over this record in his classic country twang, ironclad and resonant as ever. It’s drenched in emotion, nostalgic, though at times pleading, and the lyrics emphasize that.
Take for instance, “The Alarmist:” I find myself going back to it time and time again–if I have to stop the record for some unfortunate reason, I make sure that song gets its due first because of how the lyrics, though plain in vernacular, are so rich in meaning. On the track, Hall sings as an alarmist anyone can relate to, the alarmist inside all of us that reveals itself when we find ourselves fresh out of a relationship in which we pleaded to remain. We’re scared, heart beating, panic ensuing, God oh God what’s next, how can I last, last last is this the last before I–. The anxiety of it all, the fear, the faith nonexistent within everything we know. The ending sung ostinato, “Can I believe in the me before I knew you beautifully?” captures that feeling perfectly. And despite the fact that that adverb slapped on at the end makes little sense, Hall’s melodic tenderness toward the lyric makes me feel exactly what I believe he needed me to.
One-liners dealing with themes of anxiety stemming from uncertainty after loss are all over this record. Hall is trying to find an answer to the question of what to do after losing someone that you were close to for so long, and losing something that you had put so much into for so long. He never receives an answer though. He tries to tell himself ad nauseam from the first song, “Dotted Line,” that he doesn’t “know how, but [he’s] thinking it’ll all work out” but still has to remind himself to let “no memory fold [his] head in,” revealing that he’s not even confident enough at the start to believe he knows what to do. Then in “Moment,” almost halfway through the record, his anxiety is even more salient: “In this moment, I can’t see myself. I’m in this disaster, in this traffic, and it keeps on growing–keeps asking me “What’s in this moment?”
At the end, in “Neighbor,” he finds himself stuck in the same head-space: “I’m scared and I’m tryin’ to do right but I guess I desecrate everything,” and it seems everyone but him has the courage to do what needs to be done…whatever that is. I don’t fault him for this, though. No one ever finds out the answer. I’m sure at some point you’ve found your heart at the mercy of someone, it being pinned to your skin like some sort of romantic nicotine patch. You’re riding the high for as long as you can, trying to reach out within your mind to savor every single dopamine molecule your brain can physically produce. And then suddenly, the projector runs out of film and the needle has reached the middle; it’s all over without so much as a warning, and you’re knocked to the surface of your conscious, back to reality. Now, you have to deal with a pit of emotion that starts burning and distending within your stomach. You have to figure out how to find happiness and drive within yourself instead of being in shock and awe at those things present in dazzling fashion within someone else. In the words of Hall, “…night could be coming soon too, and when it does it’s endless.” The authenticity and relatability of the words he sings are painful, to say the least. Funny thing is, it’s also something kind of wonderful. It’s so wholeheartedly human; it hurts, but it’s supposed to–the essence of humanity is capturing those potent emotions nothing else can even touch. And the lyrics paired with Hall’s definitive, soaring melodies further embody the humanistic theme the record is about. Marigold. A flower with a distinctly warm fuzzy color, which is slowly dissolving onto a deep blue facade on the album’s cover. Pretty, yes, but also aptly representing the solace found in separation, in the waiting that follows and the wondering of what’s to come. A warming in the piercing New Jersey winter.