Review Summary: A pleasant little road trip to god-knows-where.Green & Gray
is an album that revealed itself to me in waves. Having exactly zero prior knowledge of the band Pile, I was unburdened by expectation. This proved to be a blessing. After an initial listen I was fairly convinced that this recording was something special. Yet, it was only a transient feeling. The “why” remained elusive. Seeking context, I learned of Pile’s noisy history, DIY aesthetic, and knack for garnering an unusually enthusiastic fanbase. This knowledge brought me no closer to the “why” I sought, because Green and Gray
is not static. Its answers aren’t lying around in plain view. It’s a tumultuous beast, and it cares not for that which exists outside of itself. Ultimately, the only way round’ the beast is through, and this is an album that only reveals its secrets to an attentive ear.
I said that Pile’s Green and Gray
revealed itself to me in waves and I meant it. The image of surf retreating after crashing ashore was clear in my mind only minutes into the album’s runtime. The opening salvo of songs undulate and swell, building upon the plaintive vocals and sepia toned-instrumentals of “Firewood”. The gurgling swell continues, slowly, subtly growing in intensity. When the stilted aggression of “On a Bigger Screen” hits you in the face, you may very well find you have lost your bearings. “How was it the tide should rise so high without my knowing
?” The siren’s song of a seductively-metered guitar melody nudges the listener toward reflection as “Other Moons” is revealed in the wash of what came before.
It is in these contemplative moments that I was able catch my breath and begin to process what I had been exposed to. Later, I would realize that for every grand swell there were half a dozen dynamic shifts, often several per song. Green and Gray
is an album constantly at odds with itself, never content to stay in one place for long. This ebb and flow somehow feels totally organic, even though the frequent stops and starts are often jarring. Moment to moment, song to song, and swell to swell, the music found here is perpetually morphing into disparate forms. It’s not genre-hopping, as everything is built from the same pool of rocking reminiscence and punky lament. Pile’s ability to stretch their sound from comforting to unsettling is impressive, and the speed with which the shifts take place even more so.
Songwriter and vocalist Rick McGuire’s “singing” ranges from hushed coos to taught shouting to flat-out bile on microphone unpleasantries. Yet, somehow the instruments perfectly accompany the tone and tempo of these massive musical mood swings. I feel the rhythm section deserves a special shout, as keeping the reins on this unwieldy creature cannot be easy. Now, in all fairness the kindest adjectives I can conjure when thinking of Mr. McGuire’s voice are words like “earnest” or “authentic”. These vocals are not for everyone and will likely be the deciding factor for most listeners. At multiple points during my first listen I clearly remember thinking to myself “these vocals sound like they were recorded in a wet paper bag”. I’ll just say that the first time you hear Rick’s heart-on-his-sleeve falsetto rise above the dust and din of another collapsed song structure you should feel something
. If you don’t, this is not the album for you.
About halfway through Green & Gray “The Soft Hands of Stephen Miller” uproots the listener from any relative comfort they may have found in the preceding material. After being greeted by an elastic riff dripping with urgency and the Morrison-esque announcement “from a long line of translucent lizards comes our boy Stephen” it should be readily apparent that you are along for a wild ride, one you hadn’t anticipated. A pleasant little road trip to god-knows-where. The anticipation and excitement can make your hair stand on end.
At least, that’s how this writer felt while listening to Green and Gray
. I could continue to wax poetic in my attempt to sell you on this remarkable album; like the way “A Labyrinth With No Center” is the perfect microcosm of everything contained here, right down to the perfectly apropos title. I could mention “Bruxist Grin” and its jangly guitar melody seemingly born of another era altogether. I could speak of the power and suspense generated by de facto closer “Hiding Places”. But, I already told you. The only way to wrap your head around this brute is to face it. You are just going to have to listen.