I might be verging on hyperbole here, but I think that the street view on Google Maps sorta replaced the need to road trip.
I emphasize the “sorta” here since everyone has that one friend that endlessly refers to their Kerouacian cross-country trip they took the summer after college, but why waste money you don’t have when Google’s taken the Big Brother-like care of photographing every street for your lazy ass?
After taking a casual Google trip through the streets of Montclair, New Jersey, the home of alt-country quintet, Pinegrove, I’m somewhat baffled. First of all, I couldn’t locate any space/time warps to the Bible Belt where singer Evan Stephens Hall got his drawl. More damningly, I can’t figure out how such a quaint looking college town could produce a world-weary storyteller like him.
Stephens’s hyper-literate takes on life, death, meeting other people’s boyfriends at the Port Authority, and slow dancing in living rooms consume their first full length, Cardinal, in the best possible way. Their Bandcamp wants you to believe Cardinal was made for “introspective partying”, but Stephens Hall and his band sound like they’re tuning their proverbial CV radio to the lone road trippers out there, hoping for some kind of meaningful connection wherever their songs reach.
This week, my father and I listened to album opener “Old Friends” while driving through rush hour traffic on the Pike, discussing country music, drugs, and Bo Derek along the way.
#16 – Pinegrove’s “Old Friends”
Dad: Look at all this traffic. We’re kinda moving though.
We proceed to move two feet over the next five minutes.
Tim: Uh, do you wanna talk about Pinegrove while we wait?
Dad: Alrighty, we can do that.
Tim: What did you think of them?
Dad: Initially, I was like, “this is gonna be one of those songs,” but it kinda grew on me.
Tim: Wait, what do you mean “one of those songs”?
Dad: Well… you always pick songs that are, uh, not exactly in my wheelhouse.
Tim: Your wheelhouse being pop and country, right?
Dad: Yeah, pop rock, something that has layers, something that has a lot of… I’m not going to use the term I’m thinking of right now because you make fun of me for using it so much.
Tim: Say it!
Tim: You know you want to say it. Is it…
Dad: [laughs] Yes, my wheelhouse is melody driven songs. Not to say this song or your songs aren’t, but I like choruses and strong voices.
Tim: I could see that. But you like this one?
Dad: But the second time I listened to this one, I heard the banjos and twang. It’s kind of like an Appalachian folk song, definitely a drum-driven song. I love the beat! I could just picture a music video where the guy’s just walking down the street because the beat was so hypnotic.
Tim: It’s definitely got a strut to it. How about those lyrics though?
Dad: The lyrics were pretty interesting. I liked the line about calling your parents. What’s a “comedown” though?
Tim: Well, sometimes with drugs, there’s a comedown like there’s a hangover after you drink a lot.
Dad: So it’s like a withdrawal?
Tim: It’s not like a withdrawal necessarily, your body is just decompressing after drug use and people can feel chemically imbalanced or whatever from it.
Dad: Hmm, good to know. Also, I like how the song built up. It was that drum beat, him singing, the guitars and banjos really kicking in on the chorus… I just liked it!
Tim: I’m glad! It’s funny you bring up “my music”, which I guess is more lo-fi, local…
Dad: Alternative music, I guess I meant. Sorry, continue.
Tim: Sure. But the funny part is that I picked this band this week because they have a definite country influence, which I thought you’d appreciate.
Dad: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear anything about pickup trucks or drinking beers.
Tim: [laughs] That was going to be my defense when I imagined you asking, “why’d you pick a country song this week, Tim?” If anything, I’d say the lyrics are way more deep than most of your country songs. There’s more vivid experiences in these songs too.
Dad: I agree, they were definitely deep. I’m glad I could’ve read the lyrics while he was singing because I was like, “this guy really put some thought into his message.” I mean, he was trying to tell a story. That’s why I think it’s more folk than country.
Tim: I can get behind that! Folk’s always been the closest I will ever skew towards modern country. Folk and country were often rooted in storytelling, whereas now… no offense, but it’s the same story every song.
Dad: No, you’re right. Now country’s about getting a song to sell on the Top 40.
Tim: It’s the same kind of culture that rock had in the ‘80s, right?
Dad: Yep, it’s today’s ‘80s music. I guess that’s why I like country. No synthesizers or screaming guitars though. They do have some chanting choruses though.
Tim: Ahh, yes, a nice chant is sure to liven a concert.
Dad: It’s not, like, Gregorian. Like anthem choruses where you can pump your fists, sing at the top of your lungs, and not care what anyone thinks. Back to the song though, I wonder if what he’s singing about were real events. Because to sit there and say, “gee, I wonder where I should meet my ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend? I know; the Port Authority! That’s so poignant!”
Tim: [laughs] I mean, he’s from New Jersey with a southern accent, so who knows what’s true here.
Dad: Yeah! If I didn’t know they were from New Jersey, I would’ve assumed they’re from Mississippi or West Virginia.
Tim: I dunno, man. It’s a good driving song though, which I know you’re about.
Dad: Yep, very carefree-sounding song.
Tim: With some seriously not carefree lyrics though. How would you rate this song?
Dad: What’s the scale?
Tim: I’m gonna sorta borrow your scale from last week: we’re going 1-10, except in reverse order since I can’t be exactly like my father. One is obviously, like, “throw it out the window” shit. Ten is like…
Dad: A ten! A Bo Derek!
Tim: Who’s Bo Derek?
Dad: From the movie 10. C’mon!
Tim: I have no clue what you’re talking about right now.
Dad: The beach scene is a classic. It’s parodied a lot in movies. Look it up. I would say this gets a 7. I’d like to listen to some of their other stuff!
Tim: Wow, that’s one of the highest ratings you’ve ever given! The ultimate question though is would you sip a beer next to a pickup truck to it?
Dad: [laughs] That could work. With a banjo too, don’t forget.
Tim: You know, I might join you for once on this one just to witness it.
Dad: I don’t know if we could sit on the tailgate at the same time, dude. [laughs]
Tim: Kiss my ass, man.