Pillow Army – To Comfort & Destroy EP
I’ve had a damn hard time writing this, for two different reasons. First: I love, love, love this band and its creative force, Tim Franklin. An East Coast transplant, Franklin moved to our fair burg just under two years ago and has since assembled a remarkably talented group of players to give his songs depth, movement, and weight. Now six members strong, PA is wily and agile, a division of scouts for a mysterious military operation. Which brings me to the second reason: Pillow Army is not easily categorized.
Featuring cello, violin, and flute (along with the more traditional guitar, bass, and drums), the songs of Pillow Army’s new EP To Comfort and Destroy organically explore the possibilities of melody, explaining and requiring what for other bands would be wild shifts in temperament and style. If that sounds like high-falutin academic/critic faux-speak, let’s ground it in evidence.
“Happy” opens the EP as a deceptively bouncy pop song about a church social. It starts simple, with a rolling tom lick and assertive guitar figure, before expanding the coda into an expressive orchestral wash. With clapping hands, hollered choirs, and the sweet addition of flautist Kaitlin Morrison’s harmonies, the song more than lives up to its name.
“Model Citizen” introduces social criticism to the mix via Franklin’s pure tenor–“another dull suburbanite, born to drain the world’s resources, I eat and shit and throw away”–and the result is an ominous tension/agreement between lyrics and the hard gnaw of strings.
A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Franklin’s ability to separate and arrange voices (which, here, refers to all instruments) keeps the song’s narrator from sinking, bashing and buffeting him with waves of conformity and expectations until it or he must simply stop.
The subject matter is revisited in “The Price,” a song darker still and one reminiscent of The Starlight Mints and/or The Pixies, with barely controlled feedback, skulking cello, and the first big example of genre shift: the bridge guides the arrangement from its trollish habitation out along the Irish countryside and then into the drawing room of an intimate manor. That its lyrics discuss pop culture’s fascination with celebrity flameout (“perhaps an overdose will boost your cred the most, and every word you said will turn to poetry”) shades the full cost of “The Price.”
Now we’re four songs in and fully prepped for death. And while it’s not completely fair to say “You’re Not Here Anymore” is a meditation on the idea – the lyrics shy away from settling on death or break-up, which, I suppose, is an elegant way of saying there’s not much difference between them – the plucks and squeals of string are too harrowing to be focused on much else. The resolution hinted at in the final lines (“you’re not here anymore, but if you were, you’d want me to be happy”) is left to drift away. And then alights fully formed in “Codeine.” A love note, a warning, and an explosion, “Codeine” deftly wraps confusion around acceptance both lyrically (“I couldn’t make it without you. Without you and codeine.”) and musically, as the grounding riff is eventually obliterated beneath waves of distortion and the high song of violin. It’s the perfect end: an overwhelming climax of intention as melody says what words cannot. However, that’s not how the EP ends.
Included as conclusion is a cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Oh Comely.” A great many people don’t know who NMH are and I consider it a great shame. In The Aeroplane Over the Sea, the album from which this song comes, is a new classic and one of my desert island choices; the song itself belongs to an elite collection of compositions that were recorded right the first time and simply do not need another go-round. So I’m probably a bad person to judge this cover.
That said, Pillow Army believes in it the way I do. They do not futz with the presentation. Utilizing a stripped-down set-up–only Franklin and strings–they shift and tear at the unrequited love that fuels the song, growing into the cracks and up into the light. This is what it sounded like at the Tractor (if you listen close, you can hear me yelling “holy sh-t” at the end. Just like they do on the record!)
Eventually, I realized a couple of things: 1) I need to let go, put my vinyl copy of ITAOTS away and get on with my life; and 2) I should think of it as encore. If Pillow Army did a five-song set that blew my mind like this EP did, said thanks, and stepped off stage, I’d be whooping and stomping until they came back out. If “Oh, Comely” was that encore I would never stop talking about it. In fact, that’s kinda what happened at The Tractor and I still haven’t. So, in summation, To Comfort and Destroy is amazing and as complete a realization of Pillow Army’s talents as I could hope for. I can’t wait to hear the full-length. I can’t wait to see them again. – (8/10)
Pillow Army play The Crocodile November 18 with The Horde & The Harem, What What Now, and The Royal Bear