Unlocked: Read The Key’s review of Water on Mars by Purling Hiss
The power trio is probably the most revealing lineup for a rock band. None of its members are able to hide behind warbling synths or extra layers of buzzing guitar. This type of lineup says, “We’re here on the attack. We’re going to tear the roof down. It’s that plain and simple.”
Without a doubt, Purling Hiss is the definition of that type of lineup. In an age of Pro Tools perfecting every note on the record, the Mac laptop and complex synth arrangements nearly being a standard part of the rock setup, it’s refreshing to hear stripped-down rock n’ roll again. And guitarist Mike Polizze, drummer Mike Sneeringer and Kiel Everett on bass are unrelenting on Water on Mars, the band’s first release with the full lineup.
That’s due in part to where these songs come from. Polizze is still the Hiss’ primary songwriter and he’s still exploiting his guitar as much he had on his prior releases. And he doesn’t hesitate to burst into a threatening solo on most songs on Water on Mars. However, his unabashed guitar slaying never feels too noodley.
In fact, the opener “Lolita” is not only the perfect blast-off jam for the album, but its minimal lyrics allow the music to speak more. Polizze adds an entire vocabulary of words to the song by way of screaming guitar noise and wah-pedal work. The title track, “Water on Mars,” speaks in tongues from the same planet. There’s about five minutes of Sneeringer and Everett casually wandering together, never deviating from their comfortable pace while Polizze plasters more and more noise on top of their path. The noise is what the ears hear at first, but on every following listen, the casual guitar melody Polizze’s plucking layered underneath comes more to the front.
“Rat Race,” may be the record’s most narrative song is sing-along, party rock gold. When Polizze repeats, “Everybody’s steppin’ on my shoes,” at the end, it seems like it was inspired by someone killing his buzz on a good night out. The existential and stripped down “Dead Again,” paired with “She Calms Me Down,” makes the album’s mid-point feel like the appropriate intermission before slamming back into the action on “Face Down.”
That attention paid to sequencing is what makes Water on Mars feel more like a complete album rather than just a collection of rock songs. Much like the album’s middle section, the placement of “Mary Bumble Bee,” is spot on. They thoughtfully let the listener down easily with a mid-tempo sway, and Polizze even sings, “So long, goodbye” as the last chord rings out.
The pace of the record is what’s most striking. Polizze’s writing is still just as direct as Purling Hiss’ first four releases. They don’t wasting any time to even introduce a song’s main riff, much like on Hissteria and Lounge Lizards and most of the songs end almost a bit suddenly, none just fading out. However, none of the songs from Mars are nearly as lo-fi, ultra-fuzz psych like Polizze’s early work, such as their self-titled record or Public Service Announcement. Which he’d played all the music on.
Water on Mars is a major change for them on many fronts– from band lineup to songwriting and overall album sound, at least compared to prior releases. And while NASA’s Curiosity is still roving around the red planet looking for some answers, Purling Hiss has definitely found all they’ll need to know what’s working for them from here on out.
Water on Mars is the featured album on this week’s edition of Unlocked. Download “Mercury Retrograde,” the album’s highlighted single, in yesterday’s post, and check back tomorrow for its video and an interview with the band later in the week.