Wild Mercury Sound

Purling Hiss: "Purling Hiss", "Public Service Announcement", "Hissteria"

John Mulvey

This month, I’ve been listening a lot to a band (or solo project; it’s not entirely clear) called Purling Hiss. It’s been fun but, at times, quite a challenge, even for those of us who can deal with lo-fidelity music that’s disseminated through several thick coats of distortion.

In the past year, it seems as if Purling Hiss (read it as a spoonerism) have released three albums, which frequently sound like they were recorded on a tape recorder buried under a pile of cushions, using degraded tape that’s been dubbed over a dozen times, then transferred onto vinyl, warped into the shape of an ashtray, and played through blown-out speakers. It’s an aesthetic, I guess.

Lo-fi has long been a signifier of music that’s somehow ‘authentic’, unmediated by studio vulgarities. How better to tap into supposedly honest expression, than by hearing an artist recorded, unadorned, in their bedroom? "Public Service Announcement" by Purling Hiss (on the Woodsist label) does not, however, attempt any such emo con trick. As the guitar bends further and further out of tune on “Don’t Even Try It”, or wanders off on a cosmic noodle over sketchy drumbox on “Porch Dude/Slight Return”, it’s clear that Mike Pollize, the Philadelphia-based musician behind these records, is experimenting with chance and friction and audio detritus in quite an audacious way.

There’s a fair bit of this about at the moment: all the blog-hyped hypnagogic pop practitioners like James Ferraro, whose submerged, disorienting melodies are designed to evoke half-remembered hits from the ‘80s, broadcast on a staticky radio in a distant room – or distant era. But while Pollize’s treatments occasionally resemble those used by Ariel Pink on his earliest home recordings, his music is rather different. I’ve been stuck on “Run From The City” for days now, a nagging riff that keeps straining to turn itself into a guitar solo, and which vaguely makes me think of Big Star growing up alongside the MC5 in Detroit.

For all the modish textures of "Public Service Announcement", one suspects Pollize is a virtuoso rocker at heart. That’s confirmed by a listen to his other band, a power trio called Birds Of Maya whose scuzzy and lysergic blues would’ve gone down rather well in Ladbroke Grove circa 1970. The other two Purling Hiss albums are closer in spirit to this, and fractionally higher-fi. The self-titled album on Permanent consists mostly of maxed-out jams that range from longform space-rock (“Purple Hiss”, 14:28) to blitzed psych-punk (“Dui”, 1:17). Not totally ideal for headphone listening, but highly recommended for anyone who thinks Comets On Fire wussed out after "Field Recordings From The Sun".

Maybe best of the bunch, though, is the four-track "Hissteria" (Richie), which melds the freeform attack of "Purling Hiss" with the vague melodic structure of "Public Service Announcement". Briefly, this means that a good deal of it fits neatly – though neatly may not be the exact word – into the Stooges/Mudhoney continuum, while the molten choogle of “Down On The Delaware River” suggests that Status Quo are as big an influence as any number of brute Japanese noise bands. I wonder what Levon Helm and Syl Johnson will make of it all when they share a bill with Purling Hiss at the Wilco-curated Solid Sound Festival in Massachusetts this June?


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