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“I want to do what makes me feel like a kid: experimenting, having fun, and trying to discover new things about this work,” says Pile’s Rick Maguire about All Fiction. It’s his band’s eighth record, and one that finds the ambitious group assembling its most texturally complex material yet—despite the fraught inspiration underscoring its restive lyrics. Alongside the blistering drums and scorched-earth riffs that first galvanized Pile’s dedicated fanbase, the band has incorporated elegiac strings, mystifying vocal corrosions, and haunting synths. From the creeping fear of cinematic opener “It Comes Closer” to the euphorically ascending keys on ego-shattering closer “Neon Gray,” All Fiction is an ornate, carefully paced study on the subjectivity of perception, the data-shaping despotism of big tech, and the connections between anxiety and death. In its most vital moments, it’s also a resolute recommitment to the restorative significance of art and imagination.
For fifteen years, Pile’s evolving take on rock has earned the group one oft-repeated superlative: “your favorite band’s favorite band.” Ceaseless touring took its members from Boston’s basement circuit to international festivals, hitting loftier technical apexes with each new record. Maguire—the fastidious composer, evocative guitarist, and potent voice behind the solo-turned-punk project—gives musical body to his interior world in scream-along-able lyrics that skew surreal. Drummer Kris Kuss’s time-defying performances, layered over gnarled basslines, have garnered widespread acclaim. 2019’s Green and Gray took Pile’s thunderous noise to more intricate realms, thanks to new recruit Alex Molini’s work on bass and keyboards, and Chappy Hull’s dextrous interplay on second guitar. That record drew praise for its political directness and instrumental ferocity, but Pile’s seventh album was almost a wholly different endeavor—one on which Maguire would favor piano.
“I’ve been trying to get out of what I think is ‘the rock band format,’ and I was also tired of what I saw as our identity as a band,” explains Maguire, citing the profound impact he’s drawn from Mt. Eerie’s unusual timbres, Kate Bush’s ambitious singularity, and Aphex Twin’s irreplicable soundscapes. “The confusion about identity combined with existential anxiety led to exploring my imagination as a means of escape.” As far back as 2017, Maguire’s songwriting gravitated toward more obtuse influences, with a Prophet X synthesizer eventually replacing guitar as his primary composing tool. But when Pile’s lineup changed after his move to Nashville, Maguire was hesitant to stray far from the band’s established heavy sound, lest his newer bandmates take critical heat. Squirreling away that material for a later record afforded him time to explore deliberately. “I’ve been more drawn to recordings where it’s difficult to identify what’s happening,” offers Maguire of the albums that impacted All Fiction; the list is vast, touching on adventuresome heavy-hitters like Portishead, Broadcast, Penderecki and Tinariwen. “I also wanted to use different instruments and recording techniques to highlight the songs, rather than creating the visual of a band performing them,” he says.
All Fiction—a reference to “the lack of any objective reality,” and the worries that accompany parsing truth from tale—is a record Maguire views in some ways as Pile’s most vulnerable, despite his embrace of symbolic lyricism. In 2019, Maguire and Molini began demoing All Fiction in Nashville; Molini, an established producer, brought appreciated focus to the process. As the pandemic interrupted Pile’s planned touring, Maguire leveled up at production to accommodate his fascination with electronic textures. On 2021’s Songs Known Together, Alone, he rearranged Pile’s back catalog for solo performance. Later that year, improvisational record In the Corners of a Sphere-Filled Room empowered the group to push deeper into orchestrated strangeness. In September 2021, Molini and Maguire were joined by Kuss—who was living eighteen hours away in Boston—for a month-long rehearsal of the twenty songs in contention. Kuss’s versatility gave him insight into synth patterns and atypical percussion choices like rhythmic breathing. The band, now a three-piece after the departure of Hull, recorded at home until they’d gotten All Fiction right, then they headed into the studio proper to try it all again. Recording once more with engineer Kevin McMahon (Real Estate, Titus Andronicus) at Marcata Recording in upstate New York, Pile tracked fifteen songs for over a month—the project’s longest studio stint by far. A “mammoth period” of synths, resonant vocal re-processing, and nightly full band overdubs yielded layers like doubled drums, warped classical guitars, and triggered samples of air ducts. Finally, Pile was joined by a string quartet, adding magical last touches. It marked a triumphant chapter for Maguire: “Part of it felt like pulling out all the stops,” he says. “I never really treated a Pile record that way.”
For a record intended to abdicate rock’s throne, several of the ten tracks finally chosen for All Fiction number among Pile’s rockingest. “Loops” finds Maguire questioning his motives as a songwriter, scrutinizing the border between his lived experiences and the stressors he sings about. Concerns about self-awareness, substance use, and music’s environmental impact infected “Poisons,” which takes cues from the loud-quiet splendor of PJ Harvey. A trip to Big Bend in Texas inspired the Lynchian “Nude with a Suitcase”; “I really like Kris’ breaths, and what Alex did on the Rhodes and Omnichord. It added textures that give this song a lot of life,” Maguire effuses. While global perspectives and personal moments shaped the record’s narrative arc—climate injustice, the addiction crisis, American cultism, and capitalistic overwork, to name a few subjects—Maguire says he’s more confident than ever in letting poignant images speak for themselves: “If this combination of words does it for me, it doesn’t need to make sense to somebody else.”
After completing past records, Pile’s had goals bubbling on the backburner. Maguire poured all of those and then some into All Fiction, and this purity of intention unlocked a refreshed sense of joy and fulfillment in Pile’s music. “I like thinking art has the capacity to change things and the way people function. But the means to get that art out there and get people to connect to it can be draining—and I overcommitted, in a lot of cases, to trying to be an island,” Maguire admits. All Fiction was sparked by a beguiling sonic palette, but it’s also infused with love from the years of trust between Kuss, Molini, and Maguire. Proof’s in the aftermath: though they spent five years as a long distance project, post-All Fiction, all three members of Pile are once again living in the Northeast.
“Rabbit rabbit” is a superstitious incantation repeated on the first of each month to bring good fortune—a belief practiced by Sadie Dupuis, the guitarist, singer and songwriter of the Philadelphia rock quartet Speedy Ortiz. As a child with OCD, she followed arbitrary rituals, a coping mechanism commonly triggered by early trauma, and “rabbit rabbit” was one that stuck. When Dupuis began to parse difficult memories for the first time in her songwriting, it felt like kismet to name her band’s resultant fourth record after an expression of luck and repetition: Rabbit Rabbit. Instead of re-treading old routines, the record finds Speedy Ortiz interrogating conventions, grappling with cycles of violence and destructive power dynamics with singular wit and riffs. Rabbit Rabbit finds Speedy Ortiz at its most potent: melodically fierce, sonically mountainous, scorching the earth and beginning anew.
Speedy Ortiz debuted as Dupuis’ home-recording outlet in 2011, but the solo project quickly blew up into a full-fledged band beloved around the world for its pointed lyrics, disarmingly hooky choruses, and musical ingenuity—as well as its activism. The group graced festival stages from Bonnaroo to Primavera, supported heroic artists from Foo Fighters to Liz Phair, and brought acts including Mitski and Soccer Mommy on some of their earliest tours. In 2016, the band relocated from Massachusetts to Philadelphia, with the lineup changing shortly thereafter to include sonically inventive guitarist Andy Molholt (Laser Background, Eric Slick), drivingly melodic bassist Audrey Zee Whitesides (Mal Blum, Little Waist), and heavy-hitting drummer Joey Doubek (Pinkwash, Downtown Boys). Rabbit Rabbit is the first Speedy album to feature the longtime touring members as full contributors, and Dupuis and her bandmates blaze with unpredictability, their intrepid playing thrusting songs in exhilarating new directions.
The gnarled guitars and imagistic lyrics that defined 2013’s Major Arcana, 2015’s Foil Deer and 2018’s Twerp Verse are still present, but Rabbit Rabbit’s recordings feel as vast as a desert landscape. “As I was channeling scenes and sentiments from decades past, I wanted to honor the bands I loved when I first learned guitar, ones that taught me to get lost in the possibilities of this instrument,” Dupuis recalls. Speedy Ortiz delved into its members’ most formative musical favorites—post-hardcore, the Palm Desert scene, alternative metal—pushing the agile complexity of the guitars and forceful rhythmic interplay between the drums and bass to unprecedentedly tricky extremes. “Every voice has a narrative,” offers Doubek of the arrangement process. “There is so much feeling and melody to interpret, and so much room to express it.”
The desert’s guidance extended to their choice of recording locales: Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree (Mark Lanegan, PJ Harvey) and Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas (Sparta, Fiona Apple). They worked with engineer and co-producer Sarah Tudzin (Illuminati Hotties, Pom Pom Squad), who imbued the riff-heavy record with righteous heat. She also helped carve space for the electronic tones of Dupuis’ ornate pre-production, completed using a synesthetic constraint in which she immersed herself in a different color to arrange each song. Former bandmates Darl Ferm and Devin McKnight added overdubs to fill out the record’s already-teeming sound—an homage to Rancho’s sprawling, collaborative Desert Sessions project. David Catching (earthlings?, Eagles of Death Metal), Rancho’s owner, also added mesmerizing lap steel, a favorite moment for the whole band.
In her past few years of work as a writer and interviewer, Dupuis recognized a recurring thread among artists with parallel backstories to her own: music had provided escapism from childhood abuse, but those same turbulent circumstances had normalized the grimmest aspects of the music industry. These were flashbacks she’d shied from, and constant touring enabled that avoidance. But Rabbit Rabbit pulls no punches, either in its self-reflections or its call outs. With a Touch and Go-indebted maelstrom of distorted solos, lead single “You S02” trains its gaze on apologists, union-busters, and other ex-punks who don’t live up to their public ethos. Sing-song verses explode into a candy-tipped arrow of a chorus on the danceably off-kilter “Scabs,” a critique of those who cross picket lines. Jagged-cliff-dwelling riffs and thundering drums punctuate the kiss-off waltz of “Plus One,” while dry-lightning guitars and skewed bass groove turn “Ranch vs. Ranch” (a nod to Rabbit Rabbit’s two studios) into a vivid origin story for a horror movie hero. The darkly hued “Cry Cry Cry,” written about Dupuis’ inability to feel safe with tears, is a classically-composed tumble of contrapuntal riffs and electroclash timbres. And “Ghostwriter,” already a staple of Speedy’s live set, is a call to dismiss unproductive rage, delivered with the shimmering bash of the Y2K alt renaissance. “I hope we captured the total joy I get when I hear bands like that,” says Whitesides.
The record’s most scenic lyrics come from “Kitty,” an urban pastoral about the all-night noise on Dupuis’ block. “It felt important to ground the record in our shared location, especially since being at home and the friendship of my bandmates is what helped me reckon with this album’s themes,” says Dupuis. But a sense of fight is still at the forefront of Rabbit Rabbit; another catalyst was Speedy Ortiz’s efforts as community activists. Molholt and Dupuis are organizers with the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers and its Philly local, which has worked to place instruments in state prisons. The band has also collaborated with harm reduction organizations, Girls Rock Camps, and other grassroots groups while on tour. In addition to her production work with electropop project Sad13 (Backxwash, Lizzo), Dupuis is also a poet; her second book Cry Perfume was released in 2022, and its subject matters of grief and harm reduction put her in the frame of mind to write Rabbit Rabbit’s intimately nuanced lyrics—a confessionalism explored on the meta “Ballad of Y & S,” which teasingly ponders the market utility of semi-autobiographical art.
The record’s cover is Dupuis’ mixed-media painting of a fire-engulfed pickup truck, an image inspired by the trucks on fire she drew compulsively as a kid in therapy. Drawing from literary influences that include workplace apocalypses, magical realist family dramas, and artists’ biographies, Rabbit Rabbit is Speedy Ortiz’s most ambitious and expansive record to date. “I turned 33 while writing this album, a palindrome birthday and a lucky number associated with knowledge,” explains Dupuis. “I wanted to mark how I was making better choices as I got older, letting go of heedless anger even when it’s warranted.” The album’s stirring immediacy owes much to the band’s strength as a collective, working together toward a better future—or, as Molholt puts it, “constantly surfing the highs and lows in search of a stable place to land.” With considered muscularity, captivating earworms, and genuine solidarity, Speedy Ortiz is equipped to confront the world’s indignities—with or without a good luck charm.
Washer is a rock band originally from Brooklyn, NY featuring Mike Quigley on guitar/bass/vocals and Kieran McShane on drums. Since forming in the late months of 2013, the duo have become a staple of the local DIY scene, another hard working band playing countless shows throughout the eastern and central US. They've garnered a strong reputation in that time thanks to the band’s scrappy energy and infectious indie leaning garage punk anthems. Impossibly catchy and deceptively complex, Washer’s songwriting stays with you, burrowing deep into the recesses of your mind as the band aim to “do a lot with a little”. Punk rock minimalism at its finest.
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