Release Date: Mar 19, 2013
Record label: Drag City
Like any good J Mascolyte, Purling Hiss’s Mike Polizze comes armed with high-flying wah and keeps his tunes set to whippit-phase like his buddy Kurt Vile, but Polizze’s Philly-based band puts the “power” back in “power trio” with effortless, heavier-than-heaven riffage. They’ll get major points for pouring Bleach all over your Nevermind, but don’t miss the trance-and-release rush of the title track. .
I grimaced when Water on Mars first invaded my abode. After awhile, I realized I was listening to one of the only records to come close to Bleach-era Nirvana (much of Incesticide, even more so) since Cobain offed himself. This is one of those reviews I can’t wait to write, because it feels like it’s been so long since a traditional indie rock album spoke to me so clearly, with near-perfect enunciation.
Chances are that Water On Mars, the fourth Purling Hiss LP, will face a lukewarm reception in some quarters, chiefly their longest-standing fans. This, for the simple reason that they now dare to try a little tenderness in between the primally oily cavemanic rockouts, rather than just hammering away with everything deep into the red, as tended to be their default mode on their earlier albums. (Hear for yourself if you like.) Some folks just like their ears to bleed, and many of them are also leery of things which jangle and have easily telegraphed choruses and – break out the nit medicine – might be pigeonholed as indie rock, you know like what people younger and happier and less bitter than you listen to.
Philly power trio Purling Hiss are based around the prolific songwriting of the multi-talented Mike Polizze, who grew the project from a time-killing basement recording unit to the real-deal band they've become on Water on Mars. The album raises production values without losing any of the group's corrosive charm, and the nine songs speed by, silently tipping their hat to a number of '90s alternative rock stars while delivering Polizze's unique take on fuzz-heavy rock songcraft. While Purling Hiss share a label and some sonic similarities with Ty Segall (papercut guitar tones, sidetracks into psychedelia, tuneful noise) and often get lumped in with the 2010s' indie garage scene, the vibe on Water on Mars is way more basement than garage.
Mike Polizze has staked a fine claim over the past few years to be one of the hardest working people in US indie rock. From primitive beginnings in his Philadelphia basement, Purling Hiss have released four albums in five years and have seamlessly grown into a fully-fledged band. The group that play together on the fifth Purling Hiss album, Water On Mars, were originally formed to accompany Polizze’s great friend, and the man around whom so much Philadelphia music coalesces, Kurt Vile on tour in 2010 and it’s immediately clear that this album represents a far more developed and infinitely more powerful proposition.
Purling Hiss started off as the solo side-project of Mike Polizze, then the guitarist of Philadelphia free-form heavy rock outfit, Birds of Maya. His first release, a self-titled CD-R that was later pressed to LP, didn’t stray far from that band’s sound. The songs, which were recorded to a cassette four-track, were simple and spontaneous-- thick with blistering solos, bluesy churn, and lo-fi gristle.
Before we delve deeper, let me be succinct — Purling Hiss’s new album, Water on Mars, is a good goddamn record. The Philadelphia trio of guitarist-vocalist Mike Polizze, bassist Kiel Everett and drummer Mike Sneeringer has crafted a retro-laden, conceit-free batch of songs that themselves accomplish a difficult feat — being steeped in the noise rock tradition yet simultaneously melodically appealing. Whereas groups such as Pissed Jeans and METZ champion uncompromising cacophony as an art form, Purling Hiss uses the din to inform their work, rather than relying on it and being so potentially alienating out of the gate.
Type "Mike Polizze" into Google Search and the first page of results all involve the Purling Hiss frontman "talking guitars. " With his proclivity for classic rock riffs and a catalogue of songs with titles like "Almost Washed My Hair," Polizze fully embraces the part of nerdy guitar enthusiast/overly nostalgic rock'n'roller. But unlike your typical condescending music shop guitar tech, Polizze puts this classic rock ethos to good use on Purling Hiss's latest loud and shredding release, Water on Mars.
An even more classic-rock-minded product of the same Philadelphia scene that spawned Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss began as a solo project for Mike Polizze, whose crude, fuzz-addled self-recordings disguised some truly magnificent guitar work. That guitar is no longer hidden on Purling Hiss’ fourth LP, Water on Mars, an album that marks a number of firsts for the group. It’s the project’s first release for Drag City, their first recording as a trio (Polizze is now joined by bassist Kiel Everett and drummer Mike Sneeringer) and their first album that doesn’t sound like a demo cassette that fell in a puddle.
Birds of Maya guitarist Mike Polizze has been kicking around the same scuzzy Philadelphia scene as sometime tourmate Kurt Vile for years, pushing trippy rock bursts through the lo-fi wringer. His work as Purling Hiss reveled in thrift store jean jackets, retro rock riffs, and squealing guitar solos. New disc Water on Mars brushes out just a bit of the matted fur, the power trio anthems polished to their brightest, Dinosaur Jr.-iest indie rock goodness.