Published May 02, 2019The legend of Pile lives on, and it has entered a new chapter. The band's cult status is well-documented, earning them the nickname of "your favourite band's favourite band." Led by singer and creative chief Rick Maguire, they are under-sung heroes in Boston and have slowly built up a wider following by mastering the trade secrets of DIY touring. They've reliably put out a new record once every two years, bringing their current total to seven in the last 12.
But some things are changing. Longtime members Matt Becker and Matt Connery have amicably departed, replaced by Alex Molini and former touring guitarist Chappy Hull. They're also a Nashville band now, a big shift for an act as revered in their hometown as they are. And Maguire has abandoned his narrators and opened himself up lyrically, in order to make his most transparently personal work. But despite all these changes, the beginning of this new chapter, Green and Gray, picks up exactly where the band left off.
Pile are routinely described as "post-hardcore" just about everywhere you look. It's a decent enough descriptor to those who even know what it's supposed to mean, but it leaves out how much the band incorporate elements of folk, country, blues, post-rock and even classical, along with many corners of indie rock. It's all woven into their sound in such a way that makes it recognizable, yet incomparable.
Even more so than anything else the band have done, Green and Gray is subtly complex and unpredictable. It takes several listens to process what you're hearing enough to commit it to memory. From there, you can either spend time studiously picking apart the shifting rhythms, the winding and halting melodic threads, the erratic dynamics and the knotty, enigmatic lyrics — or you can let it unfold, constantly dismantling and reassembling itself in real time, and forget about figuring out what exactly is going on.
The songs tend to subvert expectations and are rarely repetitive, banking on a common thread rather than a shared refrain. "A Labyrinth With No Center" is disharmonic and oddly rhythmed, alternating fragile fingerpicking and pounding power chords. "Your Performance" wields tempo changes like a powerful weapon. "Hair" and "My Employer" have the vibe and momentum of a Mount Eerie song, while "The Soft Hands of Stephen Miller" is ferocious and overtly political, typifying the thunderous intensity of Young Widows and the horrible screams and feedback of their onetime tour mates Converge. "Bruxist Grin" is the most immediately inviting of the bunch, with a rousing riff and harmonized lulls that invoke the best traits of '90s rock.
Pile still have yet to be discovered by many. Are they for everyone? Not really. Is this the best place for someone to start? Maybe not, either. At 53 blurry, delirious minutes, it's a lot to take in. (Better suited for that might be the more melodious, less dense Dripping or this record's chronological and spiritual predecessor, A Hairshirt of Purpose.) But it's a strong step forward, and offers no more or less than exactly what Pile are all about. (Exploding in Sound)