By Clayton Ambrose
Album: A Hairshirt of Purpose
Label: Exploding In Sound Records
Release Date: March 31, 2017
If there is any true form of justice in this world, then Pile is poised for a breakthrough. For the past six years, the Bostonian rock band has been making weird, wonderful, and largely underappreciated music that stands out among an indie rock scene that some may see as growing stale. Their latest output, A Hairshirt of Purpose, is hopefully another stepping stone to public awareness. This album, like their previous three, is dark, angular and unpredictable, while also being their most sullen and foreboding work to date. A Hairshirt of Purpose continues to advance the band’s unique twist on the post-hardcore genre in new and fascinating directions in a way that is as challenging as it is utterly refreshing.
The sound of this album is almost methodically precise in its meandering. One can picture A Hairshirt of Purpose as the soundtrack to a lone wanderer’s trek through some eternal desert, with intermittent stops in long-forgotten towns of bitter and indifferent townsfolk. The album is not dissimilar to Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, with stretches of sullen sounds being broken up by explosions of violent and vibrant music. On a dime, the music will shift from contemplative and atmospheric to driving and almost urgent. Sometimes it’ll even happen in the middle of songs, like on the half-acoustic half-post-hardcore hybrid “Slippery”. Compared to previous albums, this particular brand of southern gothic hard rock is more downtrodden and solemn, creating an air of tiredness around the record, without the music being tired itself. Front-man Rick Maguire’s injured-dog howls and world-weary delivery recall musical motifs that one might find on a country or folk record, but with all of the shiny veneer stripped away to reveal the true picture of a man whose existential battle never ends. This cyclical nature of man’s conflict with the apparent meaninglessness of existence is reflected in the lyrics of the album as well.
Lyrically, the album is more of the absurdist style that is apparent through all of Pile’s albums, with a deep pessimism that is clear even when the concrete concepts behind the lyrics aren’t. In songs like “Rope’s Length” and “Dogs”, Maguire sings about futility and anxiety in a way that transcends the odd words on the surface, which I see as the mark of an extremely talented wordsmith. Pile’s tendency to combine relatable concepts with their unique and, frankly, strange style rises them beyond a typical indie rock act. When Maguire sings something like “You find the room’s exit/In that it’s just a handful of walls”, you’re hit first with confusion before the reality of the lyric begins to sink in. The unrestricted nature of the lyrics also mimics that same quality in the music itself, with both constantly fleeing from concept or idea to the next as if it’s trying to escape the all-seeing and oppressive nothingness that Maguire describes so often on this album.
In today’s modern indie rock landscape, Pile is making music that simply has no parallel in its uniqueness and atmosphere. With this album and the rest of their discography, the band refuses to conform to typical form and structure, constantly carving out new roads to travel down when the beaten paths aren’t cutting it. A Hairshirt of Purpose is the product of a band who knew exactly what they wanted out of an album and went and created it. I will say, however, this is not an entirely accessible album; Pile’s sound can be difficult to penetrate on a first listen. But A Hairshirt of Purpose is an extremely rewarding album, and if it creates any lingering feeling of interest or fascination, chase it. You won’t be disappointed. I would highly recommend listening to their other albums and considering jumping onto the Pile hype-train, because it won’t be long now until the rest of America wises up.