By Allison Kridle
The New Hope, Pennsylvania band, Pill Friends, have been through a lot the past couple of months. Their lead singer and close friend, Ryan Wilson, passed away last year. During Wilson’s time with the lo-fi punk outfit, they released two LP’s, Blessed Suffering and Child Sacrifice, and two EP’s (Murder Me for My Sins and Fade Into Nothing). In October the members released a compilation called Let's Be Nice of b-sides, demos, and covers in remembrance of Wilson.
Let’s Be Nice feels like a collection of snapshots into the band’s past, composed of images that weren’t necessarily meant to be revealed on their previous LPs. The tracks are out-takes, experiments, free styles, memories.
The brief track “Intro,” features Wilson’s echoing voice against a shimmery and glassy melody. His speech and laugh is muffled for a few seconds. As eerie as that may sound, it’s comforting to hear Wilson’s distinctive voice in a different setting - even more personal and up close. That’s one thing I’ve always appreciated about Pill Friends. They are raw and unflinching.
The covers such as Lil’ Wayne's “I Feel Like Dying,” The Jesus and the Mary Chain's “Save Me,” and Sparklehorse's “Most Beautiful Widow,” are cloaked in Pill Friends’ tin-like instrumentals, stripped of studio effects, replaced with organic guitar riffs and the white noise of heavy air.
The demo (and single released in 2016) “Holy Like You,” serves as one of the more uplifting installments on the LP. Wilson addresses a spirit in his rattled voice beside a tender guitar and twinkling keyboard. Vocalist and cello player, Abby Trunfio, sings blissfully with Wilson, “I’ve lost the will again/To make all things new/Crawl back to the cross/Sarah to be holy like you.”
Throughout Pill Friends’ discography, topics such as death, philosophy, and religion shine through. Everything they produce is emotionally charged, drenched in deep thinking and questioning. The b-side “Samael,” which also appears on their EP Fade Into Nothing, channels many common themes in the band’s work. Kyle Schwander’s clattering drum work carries Wilson’s shaky yet assured voice as he sings, “ Find yourself in another day, watch it waste away/Into a past life which you leave behind/I wanna watch your body glow/I wanna see your parents cry/I wanna watch your house burn down/I wanna see your parents laugh.”
Perhaps a lot of the band’s work sounds pugnacious or intense at times. Wilson screaming, “You can’t be saved,” in “Parking Lot Graves” from their LP Blessed Suffering in unison with a fuzzy and combustible guitar will always float around in my ears. While Pill Friends’ combative sounds are delightfully dark in their own right, Let’s Be Nice is definitely more sore in comparison. Wilson closes the track “Samael,” with “Fade into nothing/Do drugs to stay young/Cry fake tears for no one/Drink Christ’s blood to feed your hate/Live your life now, don’t care at all/It’s all ending soon, but death will hold you tight.”
This album was one of the most rightful ways to remember Wilson as a friend and as a musician. Thank you Pill Friends, Davis Cook (bassist), Trunfio, and Schwander for releasing it. All proceeds made from Let’s Be Nice will be going to Laurel, Wilson’s daughter’s trust.