Review Summary: An overlooked gem that might just make your end of year list.
Pile are a bit of an anomaly within their genre. Drawing influence from a number of different artists from different decades, they are as likely to drive a song with an alternative rock riff as they are to unleash a grunge fuelled romp tinged with flecks of post hardcore; sometimes alternating between the two within single songs. The unpredictable genre switches they deploy almost always correlate to the intensity of the vocals from frontman and creative force Rick Maguire, as yells are married with heaviness and murmurs with restraint. And yet this only goes so far in explaining what makes Pile the anomaly that they are. Rather than conforming to the norm and sticking to conventional song structures like many of their counterparts, Pile actively avoid the well travelled verse-chorus formula in favour of an unpredictable approach that sees dynamic shifts aplenty.
These techniques are epitomised by the album opener ‘Baby Boy’, which is indicative of the content that follows. Leading with a prominent bassline from Matt Connery and a typical drawl from Maguire, caution is rapidly replaced by a wall of grunge filled guitars in a song that shifts dynamics numerous times. The final fluctuation sees Pile demonstrate their heavier side, with post hardcore vocals and frenetic instrumentation driving the song to a powerful conclusion. ‘Grunt Like a Pig’ is driven by a grunge-heavy rhythm section which features a melody akin to the intro of ‘The National Anthem’ by Radiohead, whilst ‘Bump a Grape’ sees Pile fully embrace their noise rock influences; in a pairing which effectively highlight the diversity that ‘Dripping’ has to offer.
However, the unpredictability that the album thrives on also works to its detriment when Pile aim for more straightforward, and dare I say it, ‘safe’ territory. Viewed against the excellent conclusion of ‘Prom Song’, the saunter that is ‘Steve’s Mouth’ feels apathetic and underdeveloped, as you find yourself hoping for a signature shift to morph the song into a different beast entirely. When it fails to do so and ends without incident, it’s easy to wonder why it wasn’t afforded the same luxury as its peers.
Pile’s biggest selling point is their songwriter and lead vocalist Rick Maguire; an unsurprising fact upon learning that Pile began as his solo project. With a delivery for the majority that is comparable to a lethargic Patrick Stickles (‘So Hard’, ‘Prom Date’), he occasionally reaches levels similar to Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye in the album’s heavier sections (‘Baby Boy’, ‘Sun Poisoning’). The vocals of Maguire are likely to be a deciding factor for many in whether they connect with Pile or not, with some likely to be discouraged by his distinguished style. Those who engage with his vocals however, and those who persist and become accustomed to them, are likely to be rewarded by a genre spanning album which refuses to settle into any groove long enough to become stale.