I grimaced when Water on Mars first invaded my abode. After awhile, I realized I was listening to one of the only records to come close to Bleach-era Nirvana (much of Incesticide, even more so) since Cobain offed himself. This is one of those reviews I can’t wait to write, because it feels like it’s been so long since a traditional indie rock album spoke to me so clearly, with near-perfect enunciation. Purling Hiss; lord, it’s been quite a progression since that self-titled Richie Recs LP I reviewed in Signal to Noise a few years back. All of a sudden, the hooks sink deeper; the simple solos, redolent of Pavement/Malkmus to the axe-max, sound better; and, most of all, the songwriting is muscular, to the point where it feels like Mike Polizze (Birds Of Maya) is riding a wave of inspiration that’s cresting at the perfect time.
It’s so easy to step on one’s own feet attempting an album like Water on Mars. Rock ‘n’ roll has been around the block a few times. Chords have been bashed against the jagged rocks over and OVER again, and it’s tougher than ever to pen a song that doesn’t hew too close to recent history for critics or too far from recent history for the listening public. Polizze’s active axe splits these concerns like a cord of wood, and the man accomplishes this without repeating himself once. The first three tunes come at you all top-heavy and boozy, his voice screaming the upper-register just like Cobain’s used to as the guitars obnoxiously, ominously growl at anyone who would dare stare too long.
That’s, to these ears, Movement I. The second section starts with “Dead Again,” the strongest song Mars has got, one-and-a-half-minute running time and all. A million male monkeys tried and will try to write a tune as deceptively simple/cruelly catchy as “Dead Again,” and how many of them even get beyond the first riff? Such a sick cut, delivered in a deadpan that you could fry up a batch of hotcakes on. “She Calms Me” down sounds like that doo-wop-inspired Warlocks album, plaintive and yielding, revealing the range Polizze is capable of. Despite the obnoxious shit-kicking of “Face Down,” the gentler Movement II doesn’t end until “The Harrowing Wind” hits the scene and dares us not to fall in love with it. Such a soulful melody, such prime Pavement “Haircut” tactics on the intro, such a quirky way to break a listener’s heart. That first Darlings album (by which I mean they have a new album out that I haven’t had the chance to hear) got you thinking in similar fashion. It’s almost like looking at old family photographs; scraps of songs you’ve loved, whirled together into something new, fresh, and warmly comforting.
Movement III (keep in mind I’m making all of this Movement stuff up) consists of the title track and “Mary Bumble Bee.” The first is a comedown of sorts, a mostly instrumental trip focusing on atmosphere and a plodding tempo, though it closes out with a vocal melody you forgot you needed to hear. You wouldn’t want to attempt a voyage like Water on Mars without a cut like the title track stashed in your canteen. The latter is such a tight sign-off I got a weird endorphin rush just now realizing I’d written this entire review without it. Such a charming ditty is “Mary Bumble Bee” that it almost had to bring up the rear, just as so many memorable songs of the past have. As the screenwriting coach from Adaptation said, “Wow them in the end, and you have a hit.” If Purling Hiss don’t have one with Water on Mars, I’ll suck on Nicolas Cage’s horseteeth for a month.