Less gray and more green, please.
Pile’s seventh studio album, Green and Gray, is a vulnerable yet strange celebration of time, aging and personal freedom. Glowing in grunge and low fidelity, this album is a Pile enthusiast’s dream, but in reality, it may be lacking anything special to hold on to.
Pile has characteristically stuck with what they know on the making of Green and Gray, recreating a sound that we have come to expect from them for many years. However, the record is lacking the confidence that we expect from a band seven albums down the line. Even frontman Rick Maguire seems to agree with this. Speaking about the album in a recent interview with Consequence of Sound, the frontman said, “I’ve lived with it too long now to have anything close to an objective opinion regarding where it landed.” This isn’t exactly what a passionate listener wants to hear, and his doubt is clearly felt throughout the record.
The opening track, ‘Firewood’, is an attempt at understanding youth and the personal relationships of working through life. It is an extremely sensitive topic; however, the music is not treated with the same sensitivity. Cello harmonies are included on the track but are fighting to be heard and eventually the humdrum rhythm drowns them out completely. There is a dissonance between the instruments, but instead of using this to create something unique, the sounds end up competing against each other. To bring the classical sounds of a cello into a grungy guitar track is a bold move, and could have been a testament to the band’s creative poise. Instead, the result is noisy and disjointed and does not set an impressive precedent for what is to follow.
The same can be said for the Radiohead-inspired groove on ‘Lord of Calendars’. Instead of coming to center stage and building up the bass line, they are lost to vocal explosions and manic drum banging. Maguire’s delicate and endearing falsetto notes in ‘Bruxist Grin’ are similarly overshadowed by the monotony of everything else. It is the warm intricacy in these rare moments that the listener holds on to, and when that is violently ripped away by a sound quite the opposite, it is disappointing, to say the least.
‘Hair’ comes as a song of salvation and is a standout success on the record. In the same interview given for Consequence of Sound, Maguire said about the track, “Ordinarily, I edit and rework songs until they’re unrecognizable from how they started, but I just left this one alone.” Maybe that’s the key to it then. The song’s raw authenticity can be felt from start to end and it’s one of the only tracks on the record that doesn’t feel overworked or crammed with too many ideas. It’s tender and restrained and shows that Pile can, in fact, channel their inner capabilities into creating something which makes sense. ‘The Soft Hands of Stephen Miller’ also comes as a standout track, purely because of its unapologetic ferocity. Maguire asks, “Stephen, tell me ‘bout your great grandmother,” pointing out Miller’s hypocrisy for supporting Trump’s exclusionary immigration policies when his own great-grandmother is a Jewish immigrant. Other tracks on the record blend this ferocious wailing with various other sounds and instruments, however, none of them translate as well as this one does.
It is a pity that the songs’ sensitivities do not match the album’s lyrical prowess. The empathy with which Maguire so effortlessly weaves his words is magical. He is “singing songs of no reason” and has his “gray hairs all on the ground, with something new to romanticize.” Maguire brings his listeners something that they can relate to in a universe of ways, and that is the highest goal of music. To give the gift of understanding and hope to those who listen for it, which lyrically, Pile has been able to achieve. Whether or not the music conveys that however, is another matter.
Green and Gray is an album that sacrifices sensitivity for the ease and familiarity of what the band already does. Long-time fans will be happy to see the reincarnation of these sounds, but in an industry where boundaries are constantly being pushed and permanence is fickle, Pile has unfortunately missed the mark. Listening to the album from start to end is like listening to one long song on repeat, and any real emotion or subtlety is lost to a dominating gray mass of noise.