Location: Philadelphia , PA
Venue: Kung Fu Necktie
By A.D. Amorosi
Multi-instrumentalist and singer Michael Polizze has always made music that was both loud and soft, poppy and not so poppy. Listen close to the albums he made as a guitarist for Philly’s Birds of Maya and those first one-man, lo-fi, homemade recordings under the Purling Hiss name. They have the raw appeal of primal early Stooges albums, with unexpectedly subtle and memorably melodic hooks. Yet for Purling Hiss’ Drag City label debut, Water on Mars, Polizze’s usual mix of the blisteringly bombastic and the serenely somnolent sounds refreshingly new, magnified significantly by additional full-time players (drummer Mike Sneeringer, bassist Kiel Everett) and time spent in a real studio (Philly’s Uniform, with producers Jeff Ziegler and Adam Granduciel).
“The old records were recorded at my home on an old four-track, and my resources and engineering knowledge were limited,” says Polizze of albums and EPs such as Public Service Announcement and Lounge Lizards, which were little more than demos until WFMU-FM’s Brian Turner brought them attention. Then pal Kurt Vile encouraged Polizze to expand his sound and his expectations. “It’s really hard to tell where it would have gone,” Polizze says when asked about the encouragement of Turner and Vile — the latter dragged Polizze along on one of his early tours. “I think at the time, I was just working on recording, and figuring out my sounds and what I liked to hear. I think in the back of my head, though, I did want to eventually start a band, and Kurt inviting me prompted that to happen.”
Water on Mars may have started out of necessity — a live band working together as a power trio to prepare for a tour — but the noisy result was three guys who bonded quickly and hit upon like-minded touchstones in psych-rock, blues and punk. “While my old recordings were more cerebral and lo-fi,” says Polizze, “this new album was inspired by having that live band and some real song composition.”
Considering that expansion in size, range and intention, Water on Mars feels like the first real album that Polizze totally and forcefully meant to make, from its skuzzy blustering blues down to its mellowest melodic cuts, “She Calms Me Down” and “The Harrowing Wind.”
For the most part, Polizze doesn’t suffer foolishness (“Think about white noise,” he remarks when asked about his band’s name), and considering he’s been making music for more than a decade, it must be odd for him to see Purling Hiss get all this attention now. “I personally feel like I established an identity as a writer and as an artist a while ago,” he says. “However, there have been a lot of changes over the years, from being in other bands to recording at home, and now with having a live band. I understand that it feels new to people because they’re just catching up.”