Album Review – You’re Better Than This / Pile

It has never felt like Pile take themselves seriously. In fact, the track titled ‘Fuck The Police’ is a beautiful 1:30 minute instrumental and there is a line in ‘Waking up in the Morning’ that reads as I sleepwalk with my second grade teacher’. Pile are almost the antithesis of rock, even though they embrace it at the same time, slipping between metal, post-hardcore, rock and some post-rock elements that they have become known for in their respective Massachusetts community that has grown considerably, drawing arguably more successful students of the cult, such as Speedy Ortiz

‘The World Is Your Motel’ couldn’t be a better opener and first experience of Pile. A blistering song that ends with an ungodly scream that sounds like Michael Gira incarnate from last year’s ‘Oxygen’ on the ‘To Be Kind’ album from Swans. In fact, Pile are becoming even more and more like Swans as their albums progress, with Rick Maguire howling behind the thick, sludgy guitars that are laden upon Swans‘ sound. Pile’s influences are generally pretty clear to see and they make no apologies for it: the Swans-ness, Slint’s quiet/loud dynamic, Fugazi’s DIY punk.

Maguire’s voice is sometimes lost in the mix, which makes his already-fuzzy obscure metaphor even harder to interpret. Generally in the quieter or plodding moments the lyrics are easier to hear, but during the harder moments the ear has to strain to listen to the deliberately low voice. Since it sounds so deliberate I can’t pass it off as an error and Pile’s DIY attitude always comes off as ramshackle but endearing.

However, this is where my sympathies with Pile end. Yes, they don’t take themselves seriously and yes, they undoubtedly have a sound that they have hit upon and wish to take full advantage of. But after 36 minutes I can’t help wanting for more. And not just more, just something with a bit more substance. Pile are clearly good at playing rock and crossing into hardcore, but they are so firmly implanted in this that they can’t see beyond it. They have been playing the same music since their first album. As vanguards of their scene they are the wise old men, but they are the wise old men who are content to sit on their ‘Prom Song’ sized laurels.

‘Prom Song’ was the masterpiece in the centre of 2012 album ‘Dripping’, sitting firmly in the middle of the release like the only child that stick out, a five-minute epic that can’t be found on ‘You’re Better Than This’. I wanted to be blown away by something on this new album, but it wasn’t to be found. Instead what I found was a mediocre rock album that knows what it is good at and sticks to it. Apart from the initial smile that comes from Maguire’s lyrics, I had to dig to find more.

The cover of You’re Better Than This matches the album perfectly really. Stabs at horror-rock (clowns), surrounded by garbage. This isn’t a garbage album, it has garbage in the best possible way: it’s dirty, doesn’t hold back and makes no attempt to put on a serious face. But it won’t light you on fire.

5/10

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