In early 2017, I had tickets for Dot to Dot festival, so made my way through the bands listed on the line up via Spotify. I’d been to Dot to Dot a few years before and had discovered a couple of bands I grew to love and hoped for the same that year too. I’d recently been signed off of therapy and was trying to find my feet again in every day life, though was still struggling in a lot of ways. During this time I stumbled onto an album by a band that quite honestly changed my life and mindset. Pinegrove – Cardinal.
The first song I heard was Old Friends, a song I later discovered was the starting point for many ‘Pinenuts’ (a nickname for Pinegrove fanatics). Within the first 30 seconds of this song, I knew this band were for me.
“I keep going over it over and over
My steps iterate my shame
How come every outcome’s such a comedown?
Lately afternoon with the shades drawn down”
The line ‘how come every outcome’s such a comedown?’ could quite quickly categorise Pinegrove as an Emo band, but for me they are so much more than that. They are the answer that early 2000 emo music never gave. They are the finishing point we never got, that wraps up all that angst and makes sense of it. The melodies and interchanging moods, blended beautifully with poetry, reminded me of early Death Cab for Cutie, which never struck me as an emo band, but more of a poetic indie rock band.
For months I listened to Pinegrove – Cardinal on repeat in the comfort of my living room, with the curtains closed. I had depression, generalised anxiety disorder and social anxiety. Rather than echo my feelings and leave me in the dark, the album helped put that into question on a regular basis. In all honesty, it felt very much like a diary I couldn’t remember writing, and that was more comforting than I could ever expect from a band I’d only known a few months.
When I say that this album helped save my life, I don’t say that for dramatic effect. It said everything I needed to hear, and everything I didn’t have the strength to say myself.
Say what it is
It’s so impossible
But if I just say what it is
It tends to sublimate away
When I was looking to drop
My life away
More every year
I shine light on edges I tried to unfeel
We both gotta do better than that
Some sorting out
I’ll be sitting on the outskirts if you wanna talk about it
Things in there are getting so loud
“So long Aphasia and the ways it kept me hidden
So long to silent nerves and hesitant oblivion
You came and sent me out unfurling in the street
I felt unprecedented confidence in speaking
Stick around I’m thinking things’ll be alright”
Aphasia is a neurological condition that prevents someone from accessing words well. The way it is used in the song Aphasia is as a metaphor, one which hit me in the chest and made me see clearly for the first time in years. Depression leaves you wordless, numb and in many ways frozen on the spot. It can feel like the words that came so easily to you in the past were never there in the first place. The feeling of coming out from that darkness, can feel like an overwhelming wave of temporary confidence. Until…
“Something tonight was such a let down on my pride
It takes a part of me I don’t got to take some things in stride
I’d pace around the place so quiet in myself
I’d wake the next and see my silence went unfelt
Just when I thought I had this pattern sorted out
Apparently my ventricles are full of doubt, now
Nah things go wrong sometimes
Don’t let it freak you out
But if I don’t have you by me then I’ll go underground
Pinegrove managed to capture an incredibly difficult illness poetically and concisely, without encouraging the depressive feelings further. This is something so incredibly inspiring, and helped me in finding my way out numerous times along the way. And still does.
Visiting tapped into an issue I didn’t know I had – social anxiety. I had avoided social interaction for as long as I could, it was a challenge just to face people who at one point I’d had some of my happiest moments with. Why? Maybe because I thought those days were gone, and our friendship would never be the same again. For a few of my friendships that is the case, but for most, there is always a way back. The hardest part of the process is feeling as though you have to explain yourself. Visiting expresses that perfectly.
“I’m spectral for days on end these days
With thoughts about visiting
So how about my voice rings out for you
And you can tell me what you’re doing
The truth is I lost all track of time
And I wound up wandering
Unraveling fragments all inside
But I rise up all aligning”
In many ways this post might seem like I treat this album like an ode to depression, or at least the recovery part. But there is nothing quite like hearing your own thoughts and feelings come from someone else. If there’s one thing about depression that prevents recovery, it’s the inability to put your feelings into words and sentences. And as my post about living with depression echoed, you need to talk to move through it. This could be speaking to a friend, or to a therapist, or in this case singing a song that captures your exact feelings. Without you ever having to dig into that darkness yourself, someone else lifts it out of you. When the words leave your mouth, there can be a wave of emotion that rushes over you and washes away the darkness. It may not be instant, in fact for me it’s taken years, but you get there. A word and a day at a time.
Size of the Moon
There were many times over the years when my mind would be circling around topics that were too deep for a general conversation. That I had to actively hold back from conversation because I knew it wasn’t the right moment or these weren’t the people to discuss this with. So I struggled to make conversation, or join in with discussions about topics that felt light and meaningless. I wondered where the truth was, where I could find real depth so I could truly understand life and why I felt the way I did. It took me a long time to realise why people avoided discussions about death and unhappiness. That many people choose to avoid it because life is easier to live that way. It took me even longer to realise that that’s their prerogative, and that the real reason I wanted to discuss these topics was because, deep down, I hoped I could come to terms with it and face the fear – before something external in my life made me feel it against my will. It was just another way for me to try and gain control, at a time when I felt like I didn’t have any.
Do you want to die?
Fine, you’re right
But I wonder what it feels like
To stop feeling so alive
What if we could wake up in five years and things’d be feeling alright?
I wanna visit the future and dance in a field of light
Size of the Moon touched upon this idea of wanting to discuss or do things to create feeling, to take control. The line ‘What if we could wake up in five years and things’d be feeling alright?’ was a line that broke me down hard and quick, and it helped me realise that I expected a swift recovery, when the mind is much more complicated than that. And that if you’re looking for a quick recovery, you’re probably avoiding the reality that depression is something you work through, not around. Life will just have to wait.
The Pinegrove Hiatus
I started writing an album review about Pinegrove – Cardinal back in August 2017. A few months later, Andy had bought me a ticket to see them in early 2018, but by November 2017 the band had cancelled the tour and Evan Stephens Hall, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, had done a rather wordy public announcement on Facebook that he’d been accused of sexual coersion and that they would be on a hiatus for the foreseeable future. To say I was heartbroken may sound like an exaggeration, but that’s how I felt at the time. Not just because I wouldn’t get the joy of seeing this band, but that someone who could write an album that could save me in such a way, could hurt someone, the way men have hurt so many in the current climate.
So to hear that someone whose voice and words had soothed me during my recovery last year had been accused of this, really hit a nerve. I didn’t read fans’ comments at the time in response to Hall’s public statement. For me, it was the reality check I needed, to create boundaries in my life with confidence. For a long time afterwards, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the band, and I filled a lot of the silence with female singer-songwriters.
What’s Next for Pinegrove?
Two weeks ago, almost a year later, after reading an article by Pitchfork, I decided I was comfortable to start listening to them again. Though I know many people would boycott a band the moment such a statement is made about a member. I understand people’s reasons for this but this is my take on the situation: when such a statement is released, my focus goes to the accuser rather than the accused. Pinegrove agreed to her requests to a year-long hiatus, and they fulfilled it. No gigs, no new music, no public appearances or interviews. They, in essence, disappeared. They didn’t attempt to deny or squash the subject. For a band that doesn’t make music videos, or really market themselves in any recognised way, they are already very aware of the power this has in pulling the wool over people’s eyes. I believe that with the band returning, they have done what was needed to be done, and I respect the way they’ve dealt with such a difficult issue.
The Pitchfork article filled in the blanks of Hall’s statement. I won’t go into detail because the article does a great job at that, so do give it a read. A few days later Pinegrove released their next album – Skylight. The band have now also released tour dates, sadly this time there are no dates in the North of England, so it’ll be a while before I get to see them again.
You can read more music posts here. Until next time…