Although Pile have been going for a while – they’ve been a mainstay of the Boston DIY scene since the mid-noughties – it’s only recently that they’re been garnering more attention outside their home state. It could well be that the near-Herculean amounts of regular toying has helped. Over the course of their career to date, they’ve probably spent more time in a van going from city to city than laying down tracks in a studio. Either way, it’s resulted in them gaining a loyal and dedicated following.
If you exclude the 2007 cassette Demonstration, You’re Better Than This is their fourth record, and their first to be made available in the UK thanks to Fierce Panda. For the Brits who are unacquainted, the intensity on display will be familiar to those who adored Mclusky back in the day, though digging deep underneath the (at least occasionally) impenetrable layers unmasks a curiously skilful and inventive group.
So many of these songs feel oddly askew in some way – tunings sound slightly off, some of the playing is ramshackle – but that ultimately doesn’t matter too much. They will, sometimes without warning, perform with ridiculous levels of energy. On songs such as Hot Breath and Waking Up In The Morning, they pound their instruments with the force of a metal band.
But the greatest strength of You’re Better Than This is how constantly surprising it is. They know how to do quiet-loud-quiet well – Touched By Comfort starts as a slow acoustic ballad before turning into a huge, thumping rocker. Then there’s the lyrics of singer Richard Maguire. His vocals are often drawled, yet he is more than capable of telling good, memorable stories such as Mr Fish. Sometimes they’ll just throw whatever rulebook they abide by out of the window; halfway through, there’s a pleasingly intimate acoustic interlude with the unexpected title of Fuck The Police. Who knew that an instrumental Fuck The Police would be only true moment of calm?
That’s the true joy of this album; if you go into it expecting something straightforward, you’d be startled by the many wonderful and unexpected twists and turns that Pile take. They don’t settle on a specific template – all 10 tracks take different routes from point A to point B – but listening to them endlessly toy with rhythms (see the lively #2 Hit Single) and different guitar sounds, sometimes in the same tune, is just breathtaking.
There’s no doubt that Pile have made a bruising record, but it’s also one that is rich with off-kilter melodies, roaring guitars and moments of variety. The fire that’s been in their belly for nearly a decade shows no signs of being extinguished anytime soon.