Review: A Great Big Pile of Leaves at DC9

What's in a name? We find out during an appearance by Brooklyn's experimental indie band. Photo: A Great Big Pile of Leaves

WASHINGTON, November 19, 2013 — A Great Big Pile of Leaves? Whether listening to a recording or hearing this band live, it’s hard not to get hung up on their name. In the grand scheme of things, a band’s name probably doesn’t say that much about them, having usually been chosen for any number of strange reasons, or it’s become a moniker that actually sticks after a time.

That’s what happened with this Brooklyn four piece. They danced around several names before finally coming back to “A Great Big Pile of Leaves.” There you have it.

The band’s name, like the names of so many others, seems a meaningless bit of trivial excess. But for those who care too much about trivial things, a name can mean everything. Given the right context, a name can tell you everything you need to know about a band, its sound, and its performance style. That’s exactly what happened with A Great Big Pile of Leaves during their recent appearance here at DC9.

For the name of a band, A Great Big Pile of Leaves is winding and a bit cumbersome. This is a roundabout way to describing a band that takes a basic indie rock template and incorporates flashes of experimentation into the mixture. It’s hard to characterize all these bits that swirl together. But after listening to them, you can feel that they’re definitely gravitating toward well-known sounds.

There are practically no edges to their output. Everything they play sounds perfectly soft, and it’s hard to imagine a more laid back sound until you’ve actually heard it live. Even during some of the more angular moments during their set when the pace picks up considerably, it never feels like the band is rushing. It’s as if someone took a package of jam band aesthetics and spliced it with the sounds of Dismemberment Plan and Braid.

A Great Big Pile of Leaves takes things at a fairly deliberate pace. But there’s so much of a low hum to their output that it can lull the audience into a comfort level that makes it easy to lose track of where a given song might be going. 

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Front man Peter Weiland’s vocals reinforce this effect, which is further enhanced when the band harmonizes with him, creating an echo effect that at times sounds as if someone is trapped in a chamber. The guitar work on stage compliments this effect by adding an airy, jangling tone bordering on twee—an effect the band never loses during their entire set.

A Great Big Pile of Leaves ultimately comes across as a warm-sounding band. At their best, their mix is a soothing sound, even during those times when they try to pick up the pace. But maybe that’s the key. The name “A Great Big Pile of Leaves” implies an autumnal landscape where both the trees and the ground are splashed with big, warm yellow, red and orange daubs of color.  The way this band’s set progressed at DC9 encourages comfortably warm, autumnal feelings throughout the evening and beyond.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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