Album Review: Pile – You’re Better Than This




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The need to impose a narrative on a band is ridiculous if that band is transcendent. Here’s the plot behind the latest Exploding in Sound release: Pile is a band from New England. What we should talk about when we talk about Pile is not the story behind songwriter Rick Maguire’s personal struggles; it’s not how the band came to be and it’s not how the album was recorded in Omaha with producer Ben Brodin, a Saddle Creek veteran that also drummed on a Jason Mraz abum. What a lot of people do is talk about how other artists talk about Pile — namely Krill, whose EP Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears is about that time Steve heard Pile in Malden, and then erupted in tears.

We should talk about how Maguire’s lyricism verges on storytelling straight out of a fairy tale, but played out with melted plastic action figures. Nearly every song has a surface meaning that’s both obvious and hard to place, and a deeper meaning that’s terrifying in its literal message but meaningful in subtext. “Hot Breath” is about being swallowed by a gaping mouth like a haunted children’s book, Babadook style. “I can feel every bulb start to dim over my head,” he sings, using Looney Tunes imagery to convey death, or depression, or giving up, or just something inescapable, fleeting, and out of reach. Another (hidden) song has a cook that knows its customers are hungry, and all he wants to do is feed them well … but then the title shows what it’s a metaphor for: “Rock and Roll Forever with the Customer in Mind”.

The music is important, not just the lyrics. The aforementioned “Rock and Roll” sounds like The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” cranked up to 11, burning through dual guitar solos, lashing at a faster tempo, throwing the listener around on the back of a musical Jeep that’s ventured so far off the road it can’t help but be a joyride. “Hot Breath” is a Chopin-esque funeral march with polyrhythms on guitar. “Fuck the Police” is a majestic sunset of solo fingerpicking.

Maguire’s vocals always sound like Waylon Jennings on the warpath; he spews fire like a country singer whose wife left him, and rather than write songs about trucks and beer, he opened his mouth and let hell itself escape him. Matt Becker and Maguire’s guitars mix to form sounds other bands die for — not ’80s hair metal harmonies, but something clean and pure, something new. They’ve invented the guitar-milkshake rather than drown in guitar-cola. Bassist Matt Connery’s playing sits in the back, holding the fort with a tone so crunchy it feels like bones going through a woodchipper. Drummer Kris Kruss spews jazz rhythms and avant-garde fills perfectly in time, taking the chaotic clay of the strings and molding them to the wretched beast that is Pile.

The final song, “Appendicitis”, is about the organ getting removed after nearly bursting from the point of view of the appendix itself. It could also be a metaphor for lost love, or a fear of missing out, or an abusive relationship, or literally anything you need it to be. “There were times I wanted it so bad that I made it hurt/ But now I wait as patiently as I can for my heart to ache again.” That’s what Pile is: something bigger, something easy to grasp but hard to verbalize. They might be the indie rock band everyone imitates in five years. You’re Better Than This is a yearning fulfilled.

Essential Tracks: “#2 Hit Single”, “Rock and Roll Forever with the Customer in Mind”, and “Appendicitis”