The Philadelphia-based garage rockers try to broaden their psychedelic edge but cover too much of the same old territory.
After years of muddy recordings and static-y noise rock, Mike Polizze and Purling Hiss dropped “Lolita” in 2012. A thick, psychedelic track sprinkled with polyphonic guitar solos and Polizze’s dark, tuneless hollering. Finally all of the elements could be heard and appreciated in some amount of clarity. And the band transitioned to better production without sacrificing the raw energy and biting grit they already had.
With the following albums, Water on Mars and Weirdon, Polizze and the band continued to improve the sound’s production and attempted to focus the music further as well, taking on an '80s pre-grunge indie rock sound heavily influenced by noisy psychedelic rock. With High Bias the band turns further into the psychedelic skid and employs the more atmospheric tones of the genre while keeping their other feet firmly planted in their noise rock roots.
The album’s opener feels all too familiar, but expectations are almost immediately subverted by the odd tones and heavy effects of “3000 AD". Polizze’s entrance is soft and moaning, sounding more like CAN and less like Hüsker Dü. The track barrels on, anchored by a chugging bass line and bright, reversed guitars. It’s repetitive but not the way simplistic punk is repetitive, more like the way early shoe gaze is repetitive. “Teddy’s Servo Motors” uses the same concepts of repetition and dissonance to create a moody, goth-punk atmosphere that explodes into an oddly cheery chorus. The vocals are fuzzy and have sharp echoes, especially as Polizze clips his shouting to tighten the track’s effects. It’s the Sex Pistols meets the Damned.
High Bias, on first listen, can feel like Weirdon Pt.2, but a lot of what elevates this album is it’s willingness to experiment. “Ostinato Musik", for example, is a layered mash of shrieks, effects on top of effects, and nonsense lyrics in a sort of atonal rhythm-poetry. The band throws out the idea of form entirely in favor of an unsettling soundscape. “Get Your Way” also explores a middle-ground that the band hasn’t delved into before. It has a Ramones-y sound that find Polizze taking on a rockabilly vocal color through a bouncy, pop-tinged tune. It’s a toe in the experimental pool rather than a cannonball, but it’s refreshing to hear.
High Bias does re-tread some of the band’s older territory with varying levels of success. “Notion Sickness” returns the band to the comfortability of aggressive, fast-n-loud punk that reeks of the Replacement’s Stink! And “Follow You Around” drops whimsical ‘ba-bops’ on top of an acoustic, jangle pop tune, a track format that is repeated from Weirdon’s “Another Silvermoon". The more bold and innovative tracks are bookended by the more predictable material, but by the time the album’s closer fades down, the listener is left feeling like the band should have gone further into left field. Two or three familiar sounding songs might reassure and ground the album a bit, but when those songs take up half of the album it’s simultaneously too far out of left field and not far enough.
Purling Hiss’s success with Weirdon established them as major players in the new wave of psychedelic garage rock. The landscape was open and ready for redefinition and someone to test the limits. Polizze and the band might have been the one’s to do it. They have the talent and a knack for inventive songwriting. But with High Bias, even with its attempts at envelope pushing, Purling Hiss hasn’t quite set themselves apart. They are still most definitely in the conversation if for no other reason than their evolution up to this point and their frequent output. But without evolution, their sound dissolves quickly into hissing static.