Words by Jordan Martich
Rick Maguire, guitarist and singer from the Boston-based band Pile, has made many transformations away from the acoustic solo project he started 10 years ago. They’ve remained your favorite band’s favorite band because excited accounts of their incredible live shows and by exercising command a sound that’s tough to pin down. They’re pop without pop formula, rock without rock structure, and heavy without being heavy.
Elements of the band seem constantly to be at odds with one another, but their cohesion can be divine. On their latest album, A Hairshirt of Purpose, Pile weaves their most introspective record yet, including tracks that feature piano, string arrangements, and a somber, reflective tone. “That’s kind of the idea…to take the experiences that you’ve had and add them to what you’re doing to make life more complex and interesting,” Maguire said. “This one just feels like, in its entirety, it’s more straightforward or concise.”
Where their past work has relayed dissociative visions into a chaotic new world of Pile’s image, the new record shapes playful ruminations into cathartic transformations. They retain the manic energy of collapsing guitar melodies, as with songs like “Texas,” but there’s a more thoughtful coding in the Pile formula now. It’s like the aperture widened and their perspective shifted — an increased sense of self-awareness that translates both lyrically and in the musical dynamics. Contemplative melancholia like “There’s a deep well that seems mostly empty / I stand at its edge and stare it down helplessly,” from the song “Dogs” illustrates an existential dread found throughout this record.
“I think that initially I was planning on this album being even mellower than it turned out, but compulsively we wrote a handful of heavy songs because of the nature of how we play together,” Maguire said. “But it was written to exercise the muscle of learning how to play quiet.”
An easy narrative to capture Maguire’s maturing as a songwriter would be to romanticize his past winter, spent mostly alone in Georgia at a home his parents had trouble renting out. Maguire took the opportunity to escape a brutally cold winter in Boston and the trappings of social interaction for a few weeks, reading monk-like from a stack of books and writing music in a vacuum. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that Maguire could come down off the mountain with the masterful work all on his own. This is a ruminative album, to be sure, but Pile is a weird guitar band and it’s only with all the elements working in harmony that A Hairshirt of Purpose absolutely shines. Still, the tenacity of this band pierces through whatever shape contentment takes. Maguire’s ambition carries on.
“I don’t ever think that I’ll be fully satisfied with a record, but I’m content with my life. I’m happy with the way things are and I’m pleased with the record, but I don’t think it’s the best we can pull off,” Maguire said.
Jordan Martich is a writer and musician living in Oakland. He drinks too much coffee and doesn’t go to the beach enough.