Philadelphia's Purling Hiss is now eight idiosyncratic albums into a remarkable career, and the new High Bias moves freely in tandem with the psychedelic, jam-oriented early works of bandleader Mike Polizze — as well as the unwashed, long-haired pop strum of 2009's Public Service Announcement and 2014's Weirdon. It also doubles down on the grungy, mainstream aspirations of 2013's Water On Mars, taking that album's cleaned-up aesthetics and pushing them into prismatic near-detachment. But Polizze aims higher still, in the process making High Bias his group's definitive work.
This is an unquestionably huge guitar record. In "3000 AD," four steadily growing chords and a king-sized mattress of bass help form the kind of song FM radio once thrived upon. The track has almost a British sensibility to it, with the sort of insistent two-note riff that built up PiL's "Public Image." Polizze sings much of the record in a tuneful, upper-register bark that recalls John Lydon and Pete Shelley, in songs like "Pulsations" and "Notion Sickness" that spike High Bias with actual, no-joke punk speed and energy.
But for all its hints of Anglophilia, America is on Purling Hiss' mind. The slow-burning "Get Your Way" cannily cops the opening bars of "The Star-Spangled Banner," while High Bias closes with 11-plus minutes of "Everybody In The USA," in which Polizze exclaims, "Save me, I'm afraid of everybody in the USA." As guitars race by in a generous chunk of frenetic soloing and hammer-ons, the song closes out an album that masterfully abstracts commonly held fears about today's world.
If rock music is your salve in hard times, it helps to find something that actually rocks. After casting a wide net over many styles in many years, Purling Hiss spends High Bias doing just that.