Pile – Green and Gray (Album Review, Stream)
by Steven Spoerl
Few bands have managed to inspire the kind of dedicated fervor among their contemporaries as Pile, who are treated with a singular awestruck reverence by seemingly every punk-leaning band that’s crossed their path. Part of that effect can be attributed to the band’s sleepless tour schedule, which finds the quartet on the road most months of the year and allows them the opportunity to showcase a bruising live show that’s delivered with surgical precision.
A larger part is because of the composition of the songs themselves, which finds Pile taking hairpin turns, playing with dynamics in ways other bands wouldn’t even consider, and finding a way to make otherwise complex pieces seem brutal in their immediacy. When they balance those aspects out with restraint, Pile can achieve a transcendental tenderness that’s starkly underscored by their penchant for ferocity. When they achieve a perfect equilibrium, the cumulative effect is astonishing. “Special Snowflakes“, which may very well be the best song of this present decade, is a perfect example.
Over the course of their discography, the band’s occasionally been uneven with the pacing of their full-lengths, which are otherwise formidable showcases of the band’s brilliance. Largely, the work present on those records has been so staggering, that any peripheral aspect has been a non-issue. On Green and Gray, released earlier this week, the band finally has a record that’s as punishing and beautiful as their live set.
Easily the most ornate Pile record to date, Green and Gray features some exceptional production work, allowing thoughtful flourishes like the brief but tasteful string arrangements to hit with extraordinary impact. It’s an element that’s present right from the record’s breathtaking opener, “Firewood”. Guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Rick Maguire continues to center his narratives in acute observations of the mundane, elevating them so that something as fundamentally basic as shopping feels like its being accompanied with life-or-death stakes.
Cerebral poetry swirls throughout Green and Gray, at times bordering the opaque but achieving a disconcerting purpose that allows the lyrics to accentuate the musical storm being conjured up around those narratives. Green and Gray isn’t all tumult as the band finds the perfect spots throughout to indulge their most delicate sensibilities, allowing a breathing room that still carries the emotional weight that’s been at the crux of their best work.
Occasionally those moments take the form of a whole song (“Other Moons”, “Hair”, “My Employer”, “No Hands”), other times they appear as a bridge or as an abrupt change (“A Labyrinth With No Center” and “Hiding Places” having litanies of these moments), providing Green and Gray with a beautifully balanced pace and a sense of urgency that elevates the material. It’s in those moments of transition where Green and Gray truly stands out, delivering goosebump-inducing moments that reveal the band’s mastery of their craft.
As some early listeners predicted, fiery advance singles “Bruxist Gin” and “The Soft Hands of Stephen Miller” are lent more bite within the context of the record, operating as moments of aggression that go from merely impressive as standalone works to genuinely flooring as pieces that tether together a greater whole. Pile can soothe, surge, and seethe with the best of them but Green and Gray finds them performing at an impossibly high level.
Apart from just the trio of singles that preceded Green and Gray‘s release, nearly every song on the record would be a standout if it was isolated from the record. Taken together, Green and Gray plays like a religious moment of epiphany, enough to leave most listeners reeling. Taken in one full sitting on a pair of decent headphones and it becomes an emotional tour de force, verging on annihilation. Even with Maguire’s ever-present hints of nihilism, there’s a sense of place and purpose inherent to this body of work that allows this set of songs to hit harder than normal.
By the time the final section draws the curtains, Green and Gray is standing confidently in the smoke of its own self-made fire; a scorched-earth victory pose for the most complete work of the band’s career. Far and away one of 2019’s best records, Green and Gray sees Pile perfecting nearly every aspect of their songwriting, leaving next to no room for improvement. Put simply, this is an unforgettable masterpiece from today’s best rock band. Get a copy. Now.
Listen to Green and Gray below and pick up a copy from Exploding In Sound here.