As Purling Hiss, songwriter and guitarist Mike Polizze has long straddled the line between straightforward garage pop and feedback-laden freak-outs. Beginning as a basement-recorded solo endeavor, with full-lengths like his 2009 self-titled debut and 2010’s Public Service Announcement capitalizing on the tape-recorded, lo-fi crackle the project’s namesake evokes, Purling Hiss morphed into a bona fide power trio with 2013’s Water on Mars. On that record, with the help of producer and fellow Philly native Adam Granduciel (of The War on Drugs), Polizze emerged from the blanket of ramshackle production qualities to more crisp, refined sonics, continuing the trend of his previous releases toward a cleaner, tighter sound. Now, with Weirdon, the seventh Purling Hiss album, Polizze, bassist Kiel Everett, and drummer Ben Leaphart have solidified that transition, trading most of the abrasive blasts of noise for sunny melodies, all while keeping the guitar riffs loud and booming.
At times, Weirdon is like a jukebox of tributes for Polizze’s guitar heroes, with fuzzed-out touchstones from ’60s garage, ’80s college rock, and even some ’90s grunge and pop punk. Given that Polizze is so enthusiastic about making ripping guitar music, these signifiers are especially welcome on the LP. Sometimes the mood is punky and aggressive, like the power-chord stomp of “Where’s Sweetboy”, or jangly and infectious, like on “Airwaves” and “Another Silvermoon”. Elsewhere, it’s woozy and stoned: “Reptili-A-Genda” is anchored by Polizze’s psychedelic vocals over acoustic guitars, feeling like something out of The Velvet Underground or Syd Barrett’s catalog. There’s even some Malkmus-like humor on “Sundance Saloon Boogies”: “It’s the end of time/ It’s about 6 p.m.” This variety suits the album. Where previous Purling Hiss records occasionally got lost in homespun recording techniques, the full-throated pop approach allows Polizze and co. to loosely experiment with all forms of guitar music.
Weirdon rarely loses momentum, and when it does, it feels to come from the growing pains of venturing into this more accessible territory. For instance, penultimate track “Running Through My Dreams” rarely gets out of a melancholic haze and doesn’t have enough forward motion to prepare for its excellent closer. However, that closing track, “Six Ways to Sunday”, which spans a herculean eight minutes, breezes by on the strength of its grabbing hooks. It’s one of the album’s unequivocal best, boasting mood-making guitar solos that tidily wrap up the other tracks’ eclecticism.
Like his hometown’s fellow guitar aficionados Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs, Polizze is more than capable of stretching the limits of what guitar music can accomplish. He may not be as refined or relaxed as his long-haired colleagues, but Weirdon proves him to be one of Philadelphia’s best, a tough feat considering the talent bursting out of the city.
Essential Tracks: “Another Silvermoon”, “Six Ways to Sunday”, and “Forcefield of Solitude”