Pile is a band’s band. Their PR circuit is just about every other indie rock band coming out of the Boston area. They’re referenced in a Krill EP title, and the ascendant Speedy Ortiz is always ready to rep them as the best the scene has to offer. On a more DIY scale, they are to New England bands what the Pixies were to Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke: the lesser-knowns that the big-wigs are constantly trying to emulate. On the very first listen to their newest LP, You’re Better Than This, it’s apparent as to why.
Adorning the record’s cover are cardboard scraps painted to hold the visages of evil and/or depressed clowns as well as a scattered arrangement of plastic trashbags. Pile’s pile is indicative of their grimy sound, and right from the first track, “The World is Your Motel,” the clowns seem to be armed and dangerous. A fusillade of guitar fire ushers in a record that never needs to ask for your attention. There are moments of mellowness (ironically, the song “Fuck the Police” is a fingerpicked, acoustic ballad) but, overall, it’s aggressive without being threatening the whole way through. They’re the friend who carries a knife into a bar but wouldn’t use it unless all hell broke loose. Even when they shriek and wail, they’re punk and not metal, cannons who know just how many shots to fire to subdue a battle without any needless casualties.
If your mind doesn’t drift to Jeff Mangum when you’re listening to “Wake Up in the Morning,” it may be time to listen to the Neutral Milk Hotel discography again. Sure, the guitars play for a more Pavement-turned-up-to-11 approach, but frontman and songwriter Richard Maguire’s voice sounds like it’s seconds shy of yelling “I love you, Jesus Christ” at any time. Perhaps that’s why Pile is so well spoken of by their peers. They may rock harder than Neutral Milk ever did, but there’s something about their sound putting them in the same category of earnest playfulness.
Even if you’re not sure what their point is sometimes, Pile seems like the kind of band to silence crowd talk without ever needing to ask the barflies frequenting their shows to pipe down. It’s easy to just shut up and listen to a band this unafraid of oscillating between the serious and the sarcastic, the earnest and the ironic. They spin their riffs like the teacups at Disneyland, always aware of how to keep it fun and dizzying to just the right degree. No one’s getting off their ride feeling nauseous, but everyone’s adrenaline is pumping. They’re the last beer you have before you’ve had one too many. So why would you lower the volume or not pay attention to a record like this? You’re better than this.