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.
Polizze has been hitherto rather unheralded in his own right but he has been a key figure in Philadelphia’s indie rock scene going back to his days with Birds Of Maya in 2004. Water On Mars sees him finally making a truly definitive statement. It is a record steeped in rock classicism that bristles with an invigorating vibrancy straight from the feedback laden rush of opener Lolita. On tracks like this Polizze has harnessed the balance between balls out rock and incorporating a brighter studio based sound. The vast swirls of noise and guitar squalls are hugely thrilling.
This album seems to be the natural evolution of Purling Hiss’s journey from purely abrasive noise to a more melodic and textured approach. There is a pleasing mix throughout the album of big dumb fuzz rockers like Rat Race, with its instantly relatable howls of “Everybody’s steppin’ on my shoes” and more melodic and restrained pieces like the lovely lilt of Mercury Retrograde and the woozy piano based psychedelics of She Calms Me Down.
If anything drives Purling Hiss and Mike Polizze’s work then it is anger and honour. The heaviest songs here are volleys of spiteful, snarled invective best exemplified on the snotty Face Down, which is spat out with carefree abandon. Elsewhere, Polizze rejects the moribund blue-collar lifestyle in favour of an idealised escapist dream on the title track. Clocking in at over seven minutes it is an elongated fuzz rock jam that shows Purling Hiss’s sonic development. The first five minutes are given over to a relentless chug, allowing Polizze to indulge in all manner of wild guitar sounds before the vocals finally come in with his droll cry of “Water on Mars, I can see the future”.
As well as ramping up the heavier moments, Polizze has also allowed Purling Hiss’ sweeter side to come out. Mary Bumble Bee is an utterly gorgeous, languid slice of countrified rock in the vein of his previous collaborator Kurt Vile.
Purling Hiss’s sound is, of course, long established and there are numerous echoes of other successful US bands like Mudhoney throughout the course of the album. They have a knack for repeating the same tricks in subtly different ways every time, ensuring the album remains compelling.
Perhaps the best thing about the album is its sound. Loud, uncompromising and bracing when it needs to be and homespun and tender at the quieter moments, it’s an example of how a more hi-fidelity production should not necessarily mean a lessening of impact or dilution of sound. Some of the credit here has to go to Adam Granduciel of fellow Philadelphia band The War On Drugs, who helped produce the album.
US underground rock is thriving in 2013 and its current productive state is in no small part down to restless musicians like Mike Polizze. Water On Mars is a very impressive rock LP that easily takes Polizze and Purling Hiss to another level and bears comparison to the best of the nation’s numerous indie rock luminaries.