Review: Pillbook – “Take a Second”

Aaron Garcia spent the first few months of 2019 helping fellow slowcore artists and adoptive sisters Circus Trees assemble their debut EP Sakura. But through sitting in on their editing sessions and designing the record packaging art, Garcia also found time to write a song of his own about the personal trauma that initially brought him into the Circus Trees orbit.

Recently kicked out of his parents’ Chelsea home, that song, entitled “Take a Second”, is an instrumentally dense experimentation with slowcore and metal themes. It’s jagged in all the right places yet cohesive in a general mood of heartbreak and frustration. And for Garcia, it’s a roaring return to a music scene he’s never left, but last stamped his name on in December 2017.

Indeed, this is the second release Garcia has made through the evolving project that is Pillbook. Started as a three-piece garage band, Pillbook shrunk to a two person lineup before dropping the EP Boy Band roughly a year and a half ago. Now, for “Take a Second”, the lineup has changed again, with Garcia currently presenting Pillbook as a solo project.

Almost paradoxically, however, that parrying down of Pillbook’s size has only produced a denser, louder sound then ever heard on Boy Band.

The song opens with a stabbing bassline with a soft but ever present wailing riff in the background. As Garcia’s voice enters the mix, it remains tightly pinned to the thunderous and rhythmic instrumental, enunciating alongside each bass guitar strum and methodical drum hit.

As that introduction offers a fantastic hook for the song, it gives way after less than 90 seconds to the first of three almost self-contained songs existing within the framework of Take a Second as a whole.

Garcia begins to growl, his vocals sounding angry yet also anxious over instrumentals that borrow from the musical vocabulary established in the intro. More so, as much of the song lyrically dabbles in the metaphysical and symbolic, it’s within this first complete section that Garcia addresses “Take a Second”‘s topic most directly, singing “I once had a family, now the feeling is fantasy.”

Having made clear the mindset from which he created this song, Garcia, as if on cue, summons a short but thunderous progression of bass chords. Then, even as those fade and give way to the song’s second chorus, a violent metal mood still pervades the bass strums that follow.

The song fades in and out over the rest of its more than six minute run time, especially making prominent use of industrial sounding atonal alarm like sounds in its final minutes. And, of course, through it all is Garcia’s voice and the brilliant drumming of friend Jordan Rodriguez uniting a track that might otherwise rip itself apart with its own complexity.

Altogether, “Take a Second” is chaotic. At times, it seems to struggle with its identity even. Is it metal? Is it rock? In the end, it is that very confusion that preserves this song’s best quality – honesty.

Pillbook has shed two members, moved to a different town and even transformed from a primarily performance based band, to what is now a recording project. “Take a Second” shows the Pillbook sound responding to all that change and reflects Garcia’s experimentation with a wide array of playing styles and editing techniques. Whether that’s the route he will continue to take his music in, only time will tell, but, as he quietly continues to work in a basement alongside a similarly gifted group of Marlborough musicians, “Take a Second” is a statement. And with all its bite, it’s a hard one to miss.

– Dakota Antelman