“I’m hung up on being untethered in a way that agrees with me,” coos Rick Maguire on ‘Hair’. His band Pile are on a hot streak, releasing three LPs and a b-sides collection in just five years. Their newest album, Green and Gray, features all the hallmarks that have made them the best post-hardcore band of the decade: Kris Kuss’s unyielding drumming, odd time signatures, and a vocal unpredictability that can change from the introspective ‘Hair’ to a squealing den of guitar violence on ‘The Soft Hands of Stephen Miller’. So what’s different about Green and Gray? Apart from a contentment in Maguire’s voice, not much. Throughout the record, he comes to accept his demons instead of fighting them off. “The door opens,” he repeats on ‘Hair’, as if seeing a sunset for the first time in a while.

Like it’s on antidepressants, Green and Gray is Pile’s most compressed album. Maguire has grown older. Shit, he even daydreams about politics these days with a mind that typically has too many of its own problems. Instead of mewling over sordid relationships like on 2017’s expansive and overlooked A Hairshirt of Purpose, he’s looking on the brightside on opener ‘Firewood’, where he can’t help but admit that “the shopping’s much easier now/ I can be quiet and private and protected.” Although clearly reflecting on a breakup, he’s doing a fine job seeing the silver lining.

Still, you don’t crawl out of a five-album run of self-deprecation, morbid humor, and contorted emotions without a few scars. The band’s 2012 album Dripping was recorded in a drunken stupor, far too concerned with drowning adolescent memories (‘Baby Boy’) instead of facing them head on. By that point in the band’s career, they’d established themselves with instrumentals that never go where you think they’d go. Hairshirt took that even further, often diving into muted despair (‘Milkshake’) before unleashing one of the most clear-eyed breakup songs in modern rock (‘Dogs’).

This unpredictability is usually cadenced by Maguire’s guitar playing. Often in alternate tunings and in a mixture of major and atonal melodies, the rest of the band do a wonderful job keeping up. It’s quite clear that he’s self-taught. Six albums in, however, things are taking a sad turn toward predictability. ‘A Bug On Its Back’ and ‘A Labyrinth With No Center’ move in directions you can pick up on almost as soon as their riffs begin. Pile have frequented a dilapidated blues approach to rock before songs like ‘Bruxist Grin’, but the formula is either growing tired or simply not as rich. It’s difficult to decipher which, because Pile have been an exceptional band for a such a long time.

The guitars resemble Wish You Were Here on ‘Hiding Places’, the album’s most ambitious song and a break from Maguire’s more personal tales: “A cosmic prank on a world of suckers,” he shouts at a consumerist culture. The melody treats every note with an intensity, lending weight to each peak and valley. Although epic and meticulously written, the track feels perfunctory as an end-of-album statement. This isn’t because Maguire leans on Pink Floyd (his playing style will forever be his own), but because there’s an emotional blunting to the mood. The highs and lows would be much crisper under Pile’s usual spastic and punky production style. But a band, like a person, has to mature at some point if it’s to stay engaging. Did Pile do it too soon?

Green and Gray doesn’t leave out the traits that have turned Pile into heroes in their native Boston, but its maturity is playing a 2:1 ratio against them. This is a more palatable and approachable record (even if Maguire sounds like he’s being beaten to death on ‘The Soft Hands of Stephen Miller’). But what’s missing is a lot of risk, something that each Pile record has revelled in. Green and Gray is risky as well, but it’s ground down into a smaller, less-satisfying chunk of modern rock. Never heard Pile before? This is a great place to start. Huge fan already? Don’t hold your breath.