The latest from Philadelphia guitar wizard Mike Polizze gives voice to his catchy, pop-loving side.
Weirdon, the latest album from Purling Hiss, is not nearly as weird as its title suggests. These songs are catchy, tightly crafted and loaded with hooks that will tickle your brain for weeks and weeks. The record isn’t the masterpiece that many fans believe Purling Hiss will create one day, but its cool, blissful, thorny pop provides the perfect soundtrack to the beginning of fall.
Purling Hiss is the brainchild of one Mike Polizze, a singer-songwriter-guitarist-extraordinaire from Philadelphia. In its early days, Purling Hiss served as the vehicle for Polizze’s lo-fi basement-tape experiments. On last year’s Water on Mars, Purling Hiss emerged as a full-fledged, and formidable, noise-rock trio, one that could hold its own against feedback-laden legends like Dinosaur Jr.
For Weirdon, though, Polizze returned to the basement, creating this batch of songs by himself, following his muse wherever it happened to go. And this time, his muse appears to have been infatuated with the psychedelic pop of the 1960s and the angular, jangly college rock of the 1980s. What keeps the record from being strangled by its influences is Polizze’s relentlessly inventive guitar work. Acoustic strumming, crunchy electric riffs, piercing solos -- Polizze uses every trick in the guitar hero’s book to make even his most classic pop melodies sound fresh and new.
“Forcefield of Solitude”, the record’s opening track, exemplifies Polizze’s approach here. The song begins with ringing guitar chords, followed by a squall of feedback. Then the chugging rhythm kicks in, accented by Polizze’s gently wailing guitar lines, all of it building to a laid back, pleading chorus of “Save me”! that would make J Mascis proud. The song ends with a brief, but explosive, guitar freakout.
“Learning Slowly” is another highlight, and possibly the most ear-wormy song on the album. Listening to Polizze downshift from the verse to the chorus, then back up again, with a wonderfully fuzzy tone on the guitar, is a real treat. “Airwaves” also hits the pop sweet spot -- an 85-second slice of punk-infused jangle that recalls the best of the Reagan-era underground.
Despite the reverence for concise pop songcraft on display here, Polizze takes a few opportunities on Weirdon to spread things out a bit, with varying degrees of success. “Another Silvermoon” is a six-minute psychedelic jam that never quite catches fire, bringing the momentum of the record to a halt about a third of the way through. The eight minute closer, “Six Ways to Sunday”, fares better. It moves at a melancholy pace, but Polizze punctuates the dirge-like verses with stunning, screaming guitar lines that suggest beams of blinding light piercing through a black cloud.
If there’s one thing consistently missing from the songs on Weirdon, it’s an aggressive rhythm section. There are some propulsive bass lines here and there, but too often, the guitars and vocals dominate the mix, making the bass and (especially) drums feel like afterthoughts. Giving the rhythm section a bit more kick would send these songs into an exhilarating new gear.
Still, Weirdon works very well for what it is -- a celebration of rock guitar and pop melody. Give this album a spin and you’ll be smiling and singing along and just feeling really good all over. Nothing weird about that.