I saw Philadelphia’s Purling Hiss right after the band was created in 2010 to support Kurt Vile. Although four years of brain cell annihilation has left those first moments of Purling Hiss even hazier than their distortion pedals could fathom, I clearly remember coming home and perusing the band’s first few independent releases only to lose my mind over the absolute scummy density of “Almost Washed My Hair”. Live I’m sure they were thick as a brick, but if you’re talking about a wall of sound, nobody can plow their way through those early releases—and nothing as impenetrable as Purling Hiss or Public Service Announcement could ever really be replicated on stage.
Since then, listening to Purling Hiss is kind of like listening to the kids that used to play with your then-little brother in your parent’s basement grow up. What started as Zeppelin-style riffs meets the Green Day or Pixies intro to punk rock-lite, then stumbles down darker, more expansive paths as number of bowls smoked vs. fucks given starts to tilt the scales to some kind of jumbled, imperfect authenticity. The man finding and further defining that sound has been Mike Polizze, who originally started Purling Hiss as a solo project back before the 2010 Kurt Vile tour.
Part of the band’s evolution has been giving that dirty, fuzzy sound a good rinse as the band moved up from home recordings to shiny studios, shocking us with a clear path through the fuzz last year on Water on Mars that continues on latest, Weirdon.
Thanks to the new-found friendly approach to our eardrums, we can clearly discern over three-quarters of the lyrics on Weirdon—a feat one could only dream of before last year.
But Polizze’s lyrics aren’t earth-shattering. Purling Hiss has got hooks, we’ve got gills, we’re good to go. Polizze doesn’t spend much time running his mouth. He lets his fingers do the talking. Notorious shredder that he his, Polizze has evolved from the boozy, primordial soup of Hendrix-Blue Cheer-Sabbath from Purling Hiss and even Birds of Maya’s early days into the next generation of punkish-pop, with some psych-chill thrown in for fun (see the coolly titled “Reptili-A-Genda”).
“Sundance Saloon Boogie” could be a Parquet Courts track, with its mix of bouncing beats and repetitively nihilistic vocals. “I Don’t Wanna Be A…” strikes an awesome, idealized outlaw sound, wavering between something dangerously wholesome and spurned, sudden declarations. Then, Polizze’s guitar solo cracks through the track, sending blistering waves of burnt heat back into the desert-style melody. “Aging Faces” is a Weirdon high point. The track’s poppy “uh-oh” reflects exactly how I feel about encroaching gray hairs, the chirpy little tune is balanced on a surfer-y twang that crosses into Black Lips territory.
A few small missteps—like the annoyingly jangly “Airwaves” and the (perhaps appropriately) narcotic “Running Through My Dreams”—are just small stumbles in what otherwise is a totally solid album. Even the tracks that drag their feet, like “Another Silvermoon”, find their moments. On “Anoteher Silvermoon” it’s through the strain on Polizze’s voice that is noticeably absent in most of the album, turning a neutered distance into something that still has its teeth and… other parts.
Weirdon is for the listener who experienced a brief orgasmic revelation with the release of Water on Mars that sounded something like this: “OhhHHHhhhhh! THAT’s what the fuck he’s saying!” And it’s definitely the next chapter in a book as odd as its title. As Polizze and his band evolve from what one point bordered on a noise project, who knows exactly where they’ll go from here. As long as they keep pumping out the jams, digging on each other, and playing in a way that makes that basement still seem like it’s in the recent past, we’ll be listening.