Purling Hiss: Drag on Gerard

Back in 2009, Mike Polizze was sitting at home in Philadelphia staring down a pile of solo recordings when he decided to slap the name Purling Hiss on them like a provincial flag. It wasn’t until he got a chance to tour with Kurt Vile that he wrangled some bandmates and turned his one-man psych garage-rock tunes into sprawling jams. Fourteen years and seven albums later, though, it appears Polizze is more at home going solo as a singer-songwriter or reviving his longtime cosmic rock trio Birds of Maya than he is channeling the crunchy distortion of his early project. Drag on Girard, Purling Hiss’ first studio album in seven years, picks up where the classic rock-indebted sound of 2016’s High Bias left off. Along the way, they settle into feel-good grooves and simple riffs that gradually lose their edge.

Recorded with Philly go-to Jeff Zeigler (The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile) on vintage outboard gear, Drag on Girard settles on the scuzzy, faded sound of a nicotine-stained dollar bin find from the ‘70s. The songwriting lives up to the production value, pleasant but lacking much purpose. Purling Hiss lean on rudimentary chord progressions and winding guitar solos, as they have for years, but this time the trio swaps the vibe from kicking back with some friends and a cooler of Yuenglings to the fizzled-out conversations at the end of the party. This lackadaisical approach means songs like “When the End Is Over” and “Baby” play out like brainstorming sessions, no matter how much Polizze’s desert island distortion pedal adds to the mood.

Purling Hiss are at their best when they layer exaggerated garage rock with motifs drawn from classic rock and power-pop. “Something in My Basement” pins up ragged guitar and a blistering rhythm section with vocal harmonies that channel the Beatles. Exuberant opener “Yer All in My Dreams” is Dinosaur Jr. appreciation done right: a blast of feel-good fuzz, unabashed fretboard worship, and disaffected vocal delivery. “There’s a song in every note I play,” Polizze sings, and as the track rides out with a radiantly joyful guitar solo, it’s easy to believe him. On the unexpected slow burner “Out the Door,” an elongated guitar solo, buried in distortion, casts a lonesome shadow over the solemn strums in the foreground. If they’re better known for capturing the bliss of the burnout lifestyle, Purling Hiss are capable of tenderness, too.

If only they kept sight of that potential more often. The album’s highlights can’t help but draw attention to its moments of unfocused filler. On “Drag on Girard,” the most aimless cut, a grimy guitar riff and Polizze’s shouts about driving all night extend to nearly eight minutes, like a jam session waiting for someone to take the lead. In a sense, that’s indicative of Polizze’s creative process: “It’s like I’m fishing. I’m just waiting for something to come along and if it sticks, I caught it,” he told Aquarium Drunkard. Watching an iridescent lure bob in the water is relaxing if you’re in the right mood, and there’s a thrill in witnessing something rise to the surface from below. But for the most part, it’s a lot of waiting for something to happen.

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Purling Hiss: Drag on Gerard