Purling Hiss
Photo: Drag City

Purling Hiss Take the Piss Out of Mainstream Rock on ‘Drag on Girard’

Purling Hiss’ Drag on Girard carries on a long-standing tradition of revisiting and updating the garage rock canon to extend its legacies to the next level.

Drag on Girard
Purling Hiss
Drag City
24 March 2023

The comparison has been made that the sound of Purling Hiss is akin to that of Dinosaur Jr. This analogy hits you immediately with the opening track “Yer All in My Dreams” from Purling Hiss’ new album Drag on Girard. The fuzzed-out lead guitar, the languid vocals, and the unbridled backbeat that keeps it all together nail this resemblance down, recalling Bug-era Dinosaur from the late 1980s. The lyrics that make you feel uncertain and slightly uncomfortable further remind the listener of J. Mascis‘ skewed imagination (e.g., “Severed Lips” from 1985’s band debut Dinosaur). Nonetheless, the overall effect is euphoric.

Drag on Girard is the seventh album by Purling Hiss, their last being 2016’s High Bias. Purling Hiss is led by Mike Polizze, a fixture of the Philadelphia music scene. He’s connected to the world of Kurt Vile, the War on Drugs, and their shared affection for 1970s classic rock and its favoring of lengthy jam sessions and guitar histrionics. Vile and Jeff Zeigler of the War on Drugs assisted with Polizze’s well-received solo album, 2020’s Long Lost Solace Find, a folk-acoustic affair that cast stronger light on Polizze’s songcraft by abandoning the garage band character with which he is primarily associated. Tracks like “Wishing Well”, “Cheewawa”, and “Bainmarie” from that LP are beautifully rendered.

Polizze is also a founding member of Birds of Maya, which released the excellent Valdez in 2021. To draw a quick, crude distinction between this project and Purling Hiss, Birds of Maya sounds like Rust Never Sleeps/Re-ac-tor era Neil Young and Crazy Horse, but louder, darker, and less verbal. Birds of Maya take you to school. They are prone to drawn-out guitar-bass-drum jams that wash over you like the Pacific Ocean, as described in the verse of Robinson Jeffers. Like Jeffers, Birds of Maya decenters the centrality of the human experience, in this case, in favor of feedback and percussion that, after seven minutes, coalesce into a disembodied noise that supersedes any concern or interest about the lives of the players at hand. This is a good thing. 

Against this backdrop, Drag on Girard continues the artistic momentum established by Valdez and Long Lost Solace Find in different ways. Musically situated between the two, the album employs the high-decibel approach of Birds while retaining moments of the self-conscious vulnerability found in Polizze’s solo outing. Added to the mix, Drag on Girard reveals vintage influences from the ’80s and ’90s alt-music scene, as mentioned.

To wit, “Something in my Basement” extends the Dinosaur Jr. resemblance, while the third track, “Baby”, which approximates a birth announcement (“She said she’s going to have a baby! / She’s gonna take over the world!”), has a chord progression that imparts the unnerving energy of early Pixies circa Surfer Rosa and Doolittle (“Gigantic” and “Wave of Mutilation” in particular). Track four, “Out the Door” starts like Teenage Fanclub circa Bandwagonesque before freaking out into Creedence Clearwater Revival territory toward the end. “Stay with Us” has a Replacements Tim-period power pop attitude. Still, though Purling Hiss may wear its influences on its sleeve, these connections appear more as acts of affectionate homage than derivative songwriting. 

The lyrics across Drag on Girard are somewhat opaque, intentionally buried in the mix on most tracks. I’m not sure if that matters. I’m asking for patience. Waiting for something to change, perhaps. There’s a song in every note I play. I don’t know. You won’t show. There’s my friend back again. Don’t pretend it’s the end. I’m not staying. Are you staying? There’s no need to worry. It’s just me and you. What is it, what is it? I will tell you everything. These are some of the lines, paraphrased or not, that I picked up in passing. The ideas are in the music, not the words.

The album finishes with two tracks, “Drag on Girard” and “Shining Gilded Boulevard”, each of which are seven minutes plus, totaling approximately 16 minutes or close to half of the album. Each demonstrates an internalization of Ragged Glory Crazy Horse, as does the unhurried earlier song “When the End Is Over”. Purling Hiss seem intent on closing Drag on Girard in epic fashion, and they do. I can’t wait to hear them live. 

Drag on Girard carries on a long-standing tradition of revisiting and updating the garage rock canon to extend that genre’s legacies to the next level. Polizze seems unconcerned about recording a breakthrough album and instead just blissing out on the sounds you can make with a guitar and Marshall stack. He’s as much a fan as you. 

RATING 9 / 10