Home / Music / Music Feature / Piles Balance the Blistering and the Blissful on ‘Planet Skin’

Piles Balance the Blistering and the Blissful on ‘Planet Skin’

Jun. 9, 2015
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Photo Credit: Maggie Vaughn
For a genre founded on rebellion, punk operates under a relatively narrow set of parameters. There’s only so far the music can be stretched until it’s not punk anymore. You’d think that would be limiting, but those boundaries are part of what makes the genre so great, because they pose a clear challenge: how to make something unique out of music that’s so inherently familiar. That’s a tall hurdle, one that most punk bands never clear, but with their full-length debut Planet Skin, the Milwaukee trio Piles can count themselves among the elite handful that have.

Planet Skin
divides its loyalties between two related schools: the full-throttle, rough-and-tumble punk of so many ’80s outfits and the more melodic sensibilities of that era’s underground rock. There are inevitable echoes of the bands that first excavated the boundaries between those styles—Fugazi, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, all the usual suspects—yet the record strikes a mood that’s all its own. The rhythms pummel with the speed and brutality of a street mugging, while the guitars cast a dreamy, sometimes downright pretty sheen over each track. That constant tension between beauty and menace keeps the record roiling.

There’s no great story behind how the band arrived at their unsettled sound. It was just the result of pairing a punk-minded rhythm section with a shoegaze-leaning guitarist. “Me, personally, I was always really into ’80s punk, music that’s driving and has got that energy,” says drummer Drew Gricar. As for singer/guitarist Jesse Harmon, “he’s more into melodic stuff. One of his favorite guitar players is that guitarist from My Bloody Valentine.” Kevin Shields? “Yeah, that’s definitely a name you’ll hear him mention. I was never into that stuff.”

Despite that influence, there’s no mistaking Piles for any of the shoegaze bands that they’ve periodically shared shows with. Shoegaze is, first and foremost, a genre built around control and calculation. Piles aren’t interested in that kind of precision. Though Harmon drowns Piles’ songs in many of the same guitar effects as shoegaze guitarists, he doesn’t sweat the details.

“I can appreciate good guitar tones, but I’m too lazy or spaced out to focus on them,” Harmon says. “It’s a pretty random process for me: I buy some pedals, and I turn them on—usually pretty high, to make sure that they’re working. It’s not that thought out. A lot of guitarist will have their knobs plotted out on the boards, but I’ll just turn them up and forget where I had them. I guess I could be better about that. At a recent show I figured out that I had my guitar only halfway plugged into my amp, and that’s why it sounded so quiet.”

Though the band tends to undersell it, Planet Skin is an impressive work, the type of album that could probably earn Piles a following outside of the city if enough ears heard it, especially ones that have already embraced bands like Iceage and Perfect Pussy. But Piles aren’t thinking about that kind of thing, at least not yet. For the time being, their ambitions are decidedly modest.

“We’ve got some shows lined up, and we’re going to play a bunch more this summer, but ideally we’d like to start recording again, since we already have six or seven new songs ready to go,” Harmon says. “Really, that’s why we do this, so we can keep recording new music. I guess we only have one EP and now the album, but I feel like the new songs we’re writing are getting way more interesting. I’ve always felt like we could be a lot better than we’ve been, and now we’re starting to get there.”

Piles will share a 9 p.m. show with Fungi Girls and Los Cripis on Friday, June 12 at the Riverwest Public House. Stream
Planet Skin below.


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