Get to Know the Grungy Noise-Pop Goodness of Purling Hiss
Photo: Tiffany Yoon

Photo: Tiffany Yoon

Hive Five: Our Daily Listicle of Musical Musings

Purling Hiss has been toiling around the sewers of Philadelphia’s music scene for the last several years, churning out its dissonance-soaked damage-rock stoner jams for the no-fi-thirsty throngs.

But something strange happened since signing with Chicago’s Drag City label for the just-released Water on Mars: Hiss main dude, tunesmith and guitar obliterator Mike Polizze lowered the murderous noise levels of prior releases and brought out the supremely melodic guns for this one. Water on Mars still drips glorious crud but with a grungy pop goodness, conjuring snapshots of ’90s-styled J Mascis guitar-god geekness, complete with thrift-store sweater ugliness and scraggy locks. Where has this inspiration come from? Hive caught up with Polizze to dissect how the band’s evolution peaks on Water on Mars.

1. “Mercury Retrograde” from Water on Mars

They don’t make’em like this anymore. “Mercury Retrograde,” Water on Mars’s potential hit is sticky infection and has the video to match. Ugly hand-me-down sweaters ostensibly from Kurt Cobain’s closet, slacker ‘tudes showing a band too bored to barely strum their guitars or bash the drums while set to a backdrop of killer lo-fi “special effects” is vintage ’90s fare yet replete with a timeless and melodious jangle-pop dirtiness. “I’ve always had a wide range of influences musically, and wanted a diverse set of songs to represent how I write,” write Pollize via email when asked about what defined Water on Mars.

2. “The Hoodoo” (from Lounge Lizards 12″ EP)

Before the Hiss migrated to Drag City and went the medium-fi route, Polizze made a pit-stop at the burgeoning Brooklyn-based Mexican Summer label for the Lounge Lizards EP. The perpetual no-fi crackle, psych-guitar convulsions and catchy ooh-oohs shows a band schooled on early Pavement.

3. “Passenger Queen” (from Hissteria)

Before he assembled an actual band for the current incarnation of Purling Hiss, it was Polizze’s one-man show. Warbled, indecipherable outer space-head bawling, simplistic melodies drenched in psychedelic splatter and six-string shredding was, and still remains, his raison d’être — Polizze just upped the production ante a bit and got a little mellower for Water on Mars. “The old releases are basically demos compared to Water on Mars,” explains Polizze. “I’m still coming from the same place creatively, but now it’s a bit more cohesive and fine-tuned.”

4. “Almost Washed My Hair” (from Purling Hiss)

It’s difficult to fathom the same band who set “Almost Washed My Hair” to tape is responsible for the pop precision heard on Water on Mars but it shows Polizze’s ax-slinging heft and songwriting gift. A slop epic seemingly recorded in a dank basement, “Hair” is a sick-assed, portable cassette-recorded “Sister Ray”-like nine minutes-and-change of copious and catchy sonic licks and noise galore. “The old recordings have a candidness to them that captured the process showing the mistakes, blemishes … everything,” says Polizze. “They sounded like a melted cassette.” “Almost Washed My Hair” melts, indeed.

5. “Mary Bumble Bee” (Live)

The antithesis of “Almost Washed My Hair.” A country-tinged number from Water on Mars, the sweetness “Mary Bumble Bee” inflects recalls Glasgowian master pop weavers, Teenage Fanclub, and Polizze pulls it off without a hitch. “Some songs are mellow, some aren’t,” explains Polizze. “I think it sets the tone for what may come in the future. You can have a mixed bag of songs, as long as there is some cohesive quality that ties it all together.”

Water on Mars is out now on Drag City.

 

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