Album Review: “A Hairshirt of Purpose” by Pile
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The Earth feels unnatural at six in the morning. Everything is still; the sun prepares for its grand entrance and mist still smothers the ground. In Mississippi especially, the world feels haunted and every decrepit road seems like it came straight out of the apocalypse. The trees stand observant but say nothing. That early in the morning, everything stands observant and says nothing. In a way, it feels like all the best Pile songs, instilling a sense of hollow isolation into every soul that comes through.
Pile albums always feel like gifts, a sort of blessing handed down by some otherworldly being. Even though they have put out albums at a fairly consistent rate since they first started, it still feels like an eternity between albums, and yet a new one is finally here. The biggest criticism that could be lobbed at the band is that they tend to write in songs, not albums; as a result of this, their albums sometimes feel more like mood pieces rather than a whole work. This is not so with “A Hairshirt of Purpose”; this time, Pile sounds focused in a way that they never have before.
Mostly written after frontman Rick Maguire moved to Georgia, the album deals heavily with themes of isolation, and it feels empty. “Milkshake” sounds like a saloon serenade haunted by the spectre of Kris Kuss’ drums, and “I Don’t Want to Do This Anymore” merges synths, keyboards, and guitar until they all might as well be the same instrument. Pile songs never feel like just songs. Even at their most basic, they never feel minuscule, each one playing out like a small-scale epic designed to strike at the very core of one’s being.
The epitome of this style and the pinnacle of this album is, without a doubt, “Dogs.” I don’t know what it’s about. It doesn’t matter. Listening to “Dogs” feels like being lifted up and thrown down like a rag doll; it’s gutting, it’s harrowing, it’s awe-inspiring. Every new word feels like a wave unto itself, each section building to a crescendo of strings, guitars, drums, bass, vocal harmonies, each new layer raising hairs on any neck around. And at its best, at its very best, the world clears up, the sun hits, and dawn begins.