by Cole Kinsler (@spaacemountain)
Pile are back. The beloved Boston band has returned with A Hairshirt of Purpose, via Exploding In Sound Records. They recorded 2015’s frantic powerhouse of an album You’re Better Than This in Omaha, Nebraska; this time they have stuck to more familiar surroundings. Hairshirt was recorded at The Record Company in Boston, and the band clearly felt more at-home during the process; head songwriter Rick Maguire said this led to a more “focused and deliberate” record. These words happen to be apt descriptors for how Hairshirt fits into their discography. With each release, Pile’s sound has twisted and turned this way or that, but this release feels like an arrival to something larger.. On A Hairshirt of Purpose, Pile has culled from a palette of sounds and ideas that only they could have created.
Rick Maguire’s songwriting has always lived within a sort of ghastly, monstrous realm. While there are surely moments of vulnerability (and humor), the previous two records have told surrealistic stories about characters confronting inner demons. In contrast, Maguire reportedly wrote the majority of these songs while bouncing around the South on a solo tour, with no fixed living arrangements. This greater solitude (and warmer climate) clearly led to a more thoughtful and introspective approach. The stories feel more lucid, and the messages seem more deliberate throughout the record. There seems to be an uneasy yet reserved frustration with humanity that runs through the record. Maguire repeatedly points out the ways in which we fall victim to self-deception, while not claiming to be personally exempt from them. “We’re all giving ourselves head/ each in our own way” he sings, during one of the record’s most arresting moments in “Leaning an a Wheel”. On the closing track “Fingers”, Maguire points out the sheer absurdity of human life. “Chores carried out in a vacuum/ or shoving a stone up a hill/ ascribing the absurd a meaning/ bearing no likeness to what it will.” This small Sisyphean allusion fits neatly within the album’s theme. Maguire continuously points to overwhelming thoughts that typically remain buried under our everyday mundanities. Later on that track, he sings “And not everything has a meaning/ but you can lie/ you can always lie.” He’s reminding us of the little lies we tell ourselves everyday just to make life more bearable, liveable.
A Hairshirt of Purpose offers some of Pile’s softest and most beautiful moments since the understated 2009 release Jerk Routine. “No Bone” is a stunning ballad that puts Rick’s voice front and center. “I Don’t Want To Do This Anymore” is an eerie, waltzing piano song that wouldn’t be out of place on the Westworld soundtrack. That being said, the record also has some of the band’s biggest moments. Maguire’s soaring cries during the chorus of “Dogs” are exhilarating, and one of their most gut-wrenching moments on record. Kris Kuss’ thunderous drums on “Hairshirt” certainly may raise your blood pressure momentarily. The sudden explosion into the second verse of “Rope’s Length” is incredible.
These binary oppositions, between intimate and enormous, beautiful and twisted are what make Pile one of the most interesting rock bands around right now. They’re making music that cannot be pinned down by any particular genre. This record finds them thoughtfully commanding these opposing forces nearly perfectly into one cohesive album. A Hairshirt of Purpose may be the most “Pile-sounding” record they have put out… which is to say that it’s completely unparalleled.