On ‘Green and Gray,’ Pile is growing up, but not growing soft

by Olivia Mastrosimone

On ‘Green and Gray,’ Pile is growing up, but not growing soft

Green and Gray

Exploding In Sounds Records · May 3, 2019

On ‘Green and Gray,’ Pile is growing up, but not growing soft

There’s a certain sense of ease with Green and Gray, despite all of the tension surrounding it and showcased in the tracks.

The past 12 years have been more than eventful for Pile. They’ve toured mercilessly from Allston basements to a soon-to-be Boston Calling stage, risen through the ranks of the Boston DIY scene and achieved a cult-like level of indie fame that never seemed to get to their heads. From the start of their post-hardcore preeminence with 2010’s Magic Isn’t Real to their dramatic and conceptual 2017 release A Hairshirt of Purpose, Pile has stayed low and wised up, and this maturity is clearest and at its most polished on their latest release, Green and Gray.

“No longer burdened by youth, not burning and open and raw like a wound… I can be quiet private and protected,” sings Pile frontman Rick Maguire in “Firewood,” the disarming first track of the band’s 7th studio album. Green and Gray finds Maguire firmly in control of his songwriting craft, exploring the bittersweet inevitability of adulthood and all of the good and bad that comes with it – anxiety and sacrifice, the wisdom learned from them, and, of course, the inexhaustible battle with the jerks in charge. This last one’s particularly important, actually, as “The Soft Hands of Stephen Miller” was the albums second single. It’s unusual, unhummable and an undeniably clever choice for a protest song that only emphasizes how comfortable Pile has become with themselves. And it’s pretty funny, too. (“From a long line of translucent lizards comes our boy Stephen / That inferiority complex passed down generations.”)

All humor aside, Green and Gray is an album born from tumultuous circumstances. The album is the first since the band amicably parted ways with guitarist Matt Beker and bassist Matt Connery (Touring guitarist Chappy Hull took over full-time for Becker, while Stove’s Alex Molini entered in place of Connery). There was also a pretty big location change – a band that might be more well known for being from Boston than for anything else now has half of its members living in Nashville. It was a difficult move, one that triggered a lot of anxiety for Maguire. He channeled some of that panic into the album’s lead single, “Bruxist Grin,” a restless, seething track about white-knuckling your way through change. It’s one of many softer tracks on the album, showcasing the more mournful edge of the older, wiser, and more geographically dispersed Pile. “Hair,” the cramped and smothering fifth tracks, keeps its existential panic similarly subdued, and the somber and contemplative “My Employer” tackles aging and acceptance with atmospheric restraint. But Pile is Pile, and there are still tracks on Green and Gray that call on their younger, more ruthless selves. High-velocity tracks like “A Bug on its Back,” and “On a Bigger Screen” are thunderous, with Maguire’s stomach-churning riffs and Kruss’ roaring work on the drums matching the anger of the more subdued tracks but this time, with more anger.

There’s a certain sense of ease with Green and Gray, despite all of the tension surrounding it and showcased in the tracks. Pile maneuvered around personnel shuffles and location changes with grace and produced a truly stellar album because, well, they’re Pile. And if we’ve learned anything in the last dozen years, it’s that they basically do everything right. It seems odd that a Boston-based, DIY hardcore band that has shed both their Boston and DIY skin and much of their youthful ferocity sound can still produce an album revered by national and local listeners. It’s hard to hold on to the respect of a changing and aging DIY fanbase as bands gain popularity. It’s even harder if they’re Bostonians. Pile has no trouble maintaining this respect because they’ve maintained their dignity. The band has never written anthems, never produced a song for mass media, never done a hokey cover of a meme-ified song to cash in on the young and online. They have always showcased a heightened ambition with their records, and Green and Gray is no different.