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“11.11:” an uncertain future following Pinegrove’s latest release

The indie-rock band’s latest album fails to reach new territory

Indie-rock band Pinegrove recently released their fifth album “11:11” Jan. 28, marking the band’s second album since their year-long hiatus following sexual coercion allegations leveled against lead singer and founder Evan Stephens Hall. 

The album seems to be an attempt to move on from the break and reclaim some of the attraction following their second album “Cardinal,” but their momentary poise for fame in 2017 exists in the distant past. “11:11” and its lack of memorability seems to make clear the band’s future, likely amounting to recognition of a few, catchy songs. 

Pinegrove’s rise to fame was humble but steady. In 2010, Hall and his friend from elementary school, Zack Levine, founded the band and have been making music since. The group began to perform basement concerts and develop their sound, and in 2015 they signed with Run for Cover Records and released their second album “Cardinal.” Pinegrove began to receive heightened attention, quickly amassing a widespread fanbase and critical acclaim. They headlined their first tour summer of 2016 and the group began to solidify their early success and socially conscious reputation.

In November of 2017, Hall posted an remorseful — yet somewhat defensive — statement to Facebook in response to an allegation of sexual coercion. In accordance with the survivor’s wishes, Pinegrove then stalled the release of their new album they had just recorded and stopped touring for a year. Hall also entered therapy for the year-long break. The survivor asked to remain anonymous in public discourse and later communicated that she did not intend for Pinegrove to have to make a public statement on the allegations. 

Pinegrove remained quiet for quite some time, breaking their silence with the release of “Marigold” in 2020. In a later interview with the New Yorker, Hall claimed that the album was created as the culmination of “a period of intense self-reflection.” 

On November 11, 2021, the band posted an image of their new album cover, a vertically split canvas mirrored with two shades of green frames forming a geometric pattern of squares with small red characters reading “11:11” appearing in the center. 

The post coincided with the release of one of the eleven songs on the album, “Alaska” and described the significance of “11:11”, as it depicts the simplest pattern of all, a repeating line. Continuing on, the post revealed how “11:11” could stand as Pinegrove’s wish for a better patterned world, emphasizing their desire to produce art that would lead to a more beautiful life for all.

Pinegrove has not strayed from its repetitive geometric imagery, abundant literary references and optimistic if not reductive values. The description of “11:11” seems more outward, a return to Hall’s personal musings on the greater world, as opposed to himself and consideration of his own patterns. 

“11:11” begins with the six-minute “Habitat,” featuring a slower, almost pastoral sense of quiet reflection with chirping birds texturing the landscape. “Alaska” follows with a more upbeat groove. On “Orange,” Hall sings: “They're trying to ignore it / We always knew they’d try / Today the sky is orangе / And you and I know why.” Pinegrove posted a description of “Orange” on YouTube, explaining the song “was written on the day in 2020 that the photos of Oregon's eerie, bloodshot sky circulated the internet,” referring to the west coast fires of 2020.  

If not as profound as they intend to be, Pinegrove is consistent in their proclivity towards examining social interaction and speech through the perspective of Hall’s conversational lyrics. In the above New Yorker interview, Hall called Pinegrove’s genre “language-arts rock”. He seems to have carried his past liberal arts student reputation throughout his lyricism, with a sense of navel-gazing naivety. 

“11:11” seems to center on a quiet trepidation, whether related to the fate of the Earth or Hall’s own personal life. On “Respirate,” Hall’s lyrics are stilted on the track about breathing, literally and metaphorically, during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic. He sings: “When Corona hit / I was already feeling pretty out of it.” Hall’s lyricism is contrived on the song, as his juxtaposition of breath with COVID-19 pandemic feels like a failed attempt at profundity. 

He does cleverly work within the indie-rock genre with connected lyrics, where “Respirate” ends with “But I care now / I’m not gonna let you down” and the very next track “Let” begins with “I let you down today / The day the calendar’s a palindrome.” Sonically, Pinegrove is at their best in “Swimming,” where Hall almost belts, his voice verging on croaky but settling in at something raw. 

The album connects effortlessly into one cohesive collection of songs, but does not leave listeners with much to hold on to. Pinegrove’s attempts at connection, honesty and vulnerability are – in all honesty – slightly embarrassing. Maybe it’s because Hall, now 32, is a long way away from the doe-eyed Kenyon graduate who just experienced the magic of Virginia Woolf for the first time. Maybe it’s because he does not know how to regain the traction he once had. Pinegrove still makes good music, but on “11:11,” the sense of exciting possibility wanes. 

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