Judging by their latest effort, Purling Hiss appear to have grown into a Herculean specimen of a man compared to the tripping street urchin it was on previous releases. Their fourth release, Water On Mars, sees the Philadelphia-based band transform its chaotic, psych-punk nebula into an electrifying wall of buzzing blues and rock 'n' roll. It's like they've gotten healthier, cleaner and bulked the heck up. However, those who love them for their grittiness need not fear, they haven't suddenly become clean-cut and shiny. The aforementioned "dramatic transformation" is more so in a relative sense and the band is still dirty and freaky in all the right places (most notably on the great title track which sounds like a more hi-fi update of their experimental weirdness).

At it's most potent, Water On Mars plays like an animal in heat that has just been let back into the wild. "Lolita, come back to me! Lolita! Come alone!" screams front man, Michael Polizze, on the explosive 'Lolita', The song's buzz-saw guitars aggressively hack all sorts of shapes into your ears not long before spiralling down a drain of fuzzy blues rock, hitting every side on the way down. Polizze sounds rabid as the guitars orgasm in spiky shrieks. It's a forceful track that will make you soak up the sleaze and embrace it with relish. 'Face Down' is another massive pelvic thrust of a song wedged somewhere between glam and classic rock. Its oscillating riff and finger-shredding solo will create many a guitar god in many a bedroom. The virtuosic barrages on these songs go straight for your adrenal glands and it's downright thrilling. Even a staunch music snob much in the vein of 'High Fidelity's' Rob Fleming character would even have trouble dismissing these riffs with a scoff of pretentious contempt. If you have any sense of fun whatsoever, you just don't stand a chance so don't even try to kid yourself.

With that being said, it's not all Bacchanalia though. The album's main challenge comes in the form of trying to achieve balance. Granted, an assault of balls-out rock can be pretty exhausting but Water On Mars' more down-tempo numbers yield mixed results. The album's momentum almost dislodges within the first four songs with 'Rat Race' and 'Dead Again'. Those cuts sound tired and limp compared to the raw power displayed elsewhere. On the other hand, tracks like 'She Calms Me Down' and 'Mary Bumble Bee' have a ghostly, tender charm that provide the moments of melancholic contemplation while you await the face-melting showstoppers. But really, who are we kidding? Anyone reasonably familiar with the band probably doesn't come to the party wanting anything but an unrelenting assault and as "nice enough" as the latter tracks are, they kind of feel like missed opportunities to show off the band's new muscles (the bigger, slightly cleaner sound, the more taut song structures). Perhaps its an unreasonable gripe as the amount of energy needed to display such intense power could power a small planet, but it is an observation just begging to be made.

Either way, Water On Mars is still a very enjoyable listen even if it leaves you wanting much more. It's a strange mixture that is capable of inducing your dirtiest daydreams and guiltiest pleasures to surface in your outermost consciousness with its reckless, unashamedly hormone-stimulating sense of fun. It's almost as if you should hate it because it's so bawdy and obvious but you just won't be able to deny yourself the rush of a sensory overload no matter how much you try. If this album shows the glimpses of greatness that come with drinking from the waters of Mars, then Purling Hiss should drink it more often.