by Jonathan Bannister (@j_utah)
“No longer burdened by youth / Not burning and open and raw like a wound” So begins Pile’s new double album Green and Gray. 13 tracks dealing with growing older, anxiety, sacrifice, the pursuit of a calling at the expense of everything else, the pricks in charge. Green and Gray finds Rick Maguire firmly in control of his songwriting craft. It’s another open and shut case for why Pile is beloved by many, and why they continue to make some of the most vital and needed music out there today. Simply put, this is Pile’s best album to date.
Green and Gray is a fitting way to think about the album. It’s a double album, half the band is new, the songs strike balance between frenetic intensity and more contemplative moments. Lyrically, it finds Maguire at his most open but with plenty of metaphor and abstraction. Recorded during winter in New York, the album has both a dark, best experienced at night feel while also being Pile’s most full and produced album. There’s strings, piano, percussion. The music feels open and free in a way that maybe past Pile albums haven’t. There’s room to breathe across the record.
What always first attracts anyone to Pile is the music. Odd time signatures, monster riffs careening out of discordant chaos, twists and turns through soft and loud, and that’s all there. This is still 100% a Pile record. Songs like “Your Performance” and “A Labyrinth With No Center” showcase Pile at their most nimble and chunky. Riffs for days backed by Kris Kuss’ thundering drums. New guitar player Chappy Hull and bassist Alex Molini are more than ready and able to hang inside Pile’s groove. This is shown off on “A Bug on It’s Back” and the seven-plus minutes of “Hiding Places” (Pile have always been masters of the long form song).
But where Green and Gray really shines is in a quartet of songs that spans across the entire album (and being that the album is so well sequenced, one of the songs can be found on each side). “Firewood,” “Hair,” “My Employer,” and “No Hands” showcase Pile at their very best. The songs feel melancholy, the melodies somber and contemplative. They showcase just how good Maguire has become lyrically. There’s a confidence and willingness to share. At least it feels this way. These are songs reckoning with aging, with accepting the choices that have been made, and learning to be content with the outcomes of those choices. They’re also songs about passions and what it means to follow dreams. “I found fire when I was 12 / It’s lasted over twenty years / And I can count on one finger / The people that can hurt me now” Maguire sings on “My Employer.” Playing these songs together they feel like one piece in four movements. These are songs that have counted the cost. Doing what you love will come with a price.
Green and Gray feels like a summation of all that Pile has done before while also looking ahead to what’s next. It’s an album that demands your attention. You’ll find yourself unable to do anything else while it’s on. “So work comes first” Maguire sings. If one wants to risk reading too much into things, it sounds like Pile is in it for the long haul and if this album is any indication, they’re just hitting their stride.