by Ethan Jaynes (@ethan_jaynes)
Pile’s music, since it first reared its magnificent, ugly head, has had a penchant for creating and then subsequently destroying suburban banality. Many of the environments that lead vocalist and guitarist Rick Maguire creates can, for at least a brief moment, conjure up images of 1950’s nuclear test towns; superficially everything is alright, but there is something seriously wrong. The beauty in Pile’s music is fully exposed via the violent process of tearing down these facades. The Boston quartet’s last full-length, Dripping, spent a great deal of time building up to these climatic fits of sludgy guitar and screamed vocals, with talk of adults washing their hands in water fountains and waking up upside-down, crying. You’re Better Than This blurs these already-faint compositional lines, further pushing the boundaries of traditional rock and post-hardcore.
Rick and the gang burst out of the gate, guns blazing, with “The World is Your Motel”, the unofficial single from the record. The track sets what could just barely be described as a “pace” for the rest of the record – complete with whiplash-inducing time signatures, brutal riffs and Rick’s trademark manic howling. We see our protagonist sending mail, cooking food, and showing off his less-than-impressive resume to the musical equivalent of paranoid schizophrenia. It isn’t immediately clear if this man is Rick, and this ambiguity holds throughout the record as character vignettes like “Mr. Fish” and “Tin Foil Hat” are introduced alongside tracks that lean more autobiographical.
Pile’s albums have never adhered to a linear story-line though, so this shouldn’t come as a shock. Like their previous projects, You’re Better Than This functions best when digested and understood as a reflection on visceral human emotion and struggle. This sentiment is perhaps most evident in “Hot Breath,” a brooding, borderline-post-rock deep cut during which Rick goes into gory detail discussing physiological reactions to stress and anxiety. The track builds to a monstrous, cathartic finish that frames at least one victory for our main character.
As the album progresses, it becomes painfully clear that no one really wins in the battle between man and his brain. There’s no grand realization or breakthrough being made here – small victories, for sure, but the last line on the album makes it clear that we’ll always be at uncomfortable stalemate: “You crouch into a box where you pretend it doesn't exist / The fear can sit there / Stewing, festering, growing, the box grows too / You build your world around it.” Pile has always been most comfortable making us uncomfortable. Once we become complacent with a certain sound, they push the boundaries even further, poking us in places we didn’t even know existed. Understanding and coming to appreciate their unique brand of chaos, discomfort and resolution, or lack thereof, is an opportunity and privilege we should all be thankful for.