Monday, July 20, 2015

PURLING HISS

Philly's Purling Hiss have been making records for half-a-dozen years, and they make very fine grunge recordings. The band is essentially guitarist/singer/songwriter Mark Polizze and whomever else he feels like dragging along for the ride. I have been particularly taken with the band's last two full-lengthers on the Drag City label, 2013's Water On Mars and last year's Weirdon. The group sound like an amalgamam/mash-up/tribute to 'the grunge years' on the former, with perhaps a slightly less 'heavy' approach taken on the latter, it bringing to mind a musical stew tipping the hat to the early '90s lo-fi scene (and what a scene it was, at least for a brief flash in time). I stand here under the impression that Polizze is a good decade younger than myself, which of course puts all this musical shenanigans into a slightly different context. After all, I was there, man... and do I need to revisit it?
During the Grunge Years - let's loosely frame them as 1988 - 1993 - I was underwhelmed by much of its musical output, feeling that a lot of the gunk the Sub Pop label, or even Amphetamine Reptile, spewed out sounded like B-grade post-HC heavy metal which had smoked too many bongs to various SST bands. Actually, that sounds quite appealing, and indeed, amongst the gunk there was still much to like, and excuse me while I get all nostalgic about a music scene which didn't thrill me a whole lot the first time around... OK, where was I? Nowhere, that's where.
Water On Mars is an excellent slab of grunge-rock - of that I have no doubt. Yes, grunge-rock. It sounds like Bleach-era Nirvana meets Mudhoney's first few 7"s with a bit of Taang!-era Lemonheads chucked on top. Throw in some U-Men 'tard-rock, even some Tad, fer chrissakes, a dollop of SST Dinosaur jamz and mix. Low-brow slob-rock with the tunes to match: loosen up your guard and soak it up, coz it really is a lot of fun. Upon hearing me blasting this one, my ever-judgmental brother screwed his face up and uttered, 'What the hell is this? Grunge rules, man'. Indeed it does.



Last year's Weirdon is equally as fine. It was in fact one of my favourite slabs of contemporary rock during that annus horribilis. Polizze and co. retained the wall of guitar fuzz, but without the grungoid heaviosity, meaning for me this one possesses a slightly En Zed flavour, with other portions bringing to mind the songsmithery and scattershot approach to composition favoured by primo Guided By Voices before they got boring (or awful), or maybe the Grifters' recordings for the Shangri-La label. Actually, just about everything Purling Hiss does sounds scattershot, like a beautiful accident. Their pre-Drag City career involves tapes and vinyl on an assortment of imprints, some of the output bordering on no-fi, but it's pulled together by the ability to throw in surprising hooks which worm their way to the surface at unexpected moments. Polizze hit strings with wunderkind/indie pin-up boy Kurt Vile back in the day or somesuch (there's a connection there which doesn't interest me enough to Google it), and it kinda baffles me that Purling Hiss don't enjoy a wider fan base, considering Vile's unit-shifting abilities in recent years (and I don't say this to besmirch Vile's good name: I think he makes fine records), but whatever. Whisper it to your buddies: Purling Hiss make great music.

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