A big theme of my 2015 AOTY list was records that surprised me and took high-ranking spots on my final list. This was the case for Foxing's Dealer, Turnover's Peripheral Vision and The World Is...'s Harmlessness, which ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively. These stuck out because they were bands I had actually listened to before but whose new albums didn't interest me when they were initially released. That I liked them so much was a surprise, and that surprise is amplified when the same thing happens three times in one year.
I can't truly toss Pinegrove's Cardinal (Apple Music / iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, YouTube below, Amazon) into the same bucket. I hadn't heard this band before this year, so their first LP for Run For Cover Records wasn't a surprise in the same way. It came out of nowhere because this was a new band for me, not because I had any pre-existing thoughts about whether Cardinal would be any good.
But Cardinal became my first AOTY contender of 2016. It was released in February, and while it's silly to call anything an "AOTY contender" in February, it was still pretty clear to me at the time that this would make my eventual short list. I fell for it quickly and without much hesitation. The album's vibe is indie-rock mixed with alt-country/Americana: It's Limbeck's Hi, Everything's Great for 2016 emo/punk listeners, an album that isn't afraid to draw inspiration from a bunch of stuff between modern indie-rock and Springsteen's Nebraska.
Cardinal is largely more subdued than Hi, Everything's Great. Vocalist Evan Hall at times drawls, murmurs or even slurs his lyrics, content to stay in the relative background of a swelling and dynamic instrumental effort. It's tempting to say his drawl sounds Southern, but Pinegrove and Hall are from New Jersey, so the end result of his vocals and his band's rock songs winds up claiming no geographic (sonic) home. It feels oddly familiar on first listen for this reason -- something you think you've heard before but cannot place.Read More