, June 18th, 2013 04:08
If you ever needed proof that the Japanese were nuts about all things New Wave, look no further than Polysics. The band was formed in 1997 by Hiro Hayashi (at the time just a high school student) out of a deep appreciation of technopop. In particular, he loved the bands Devo and P-Model; their look is something of a combination of the two. Somehow, they wound up becoming one of the scene's most reliable groups. They have now seen the release of at least 11 albums (depending on what you count), several EPs, and a few compilations created to break the band into the English-speaking market. Through it all they have remained remarkably consistent - each release is filled with a style of music the band themselves have dubbed "technicolor pogo punk", while the album covers and titles have gotten steadily more ridiculous. Weeeeeeeeee!!! (that's ten e's, three exclamation points) is the latest, one of the rare Polysics studio albums to get an international release.
For those who haven't heard of the band, their music sounds something like Andrew W.K. performing the works of Devo. All the elements of New Wave are there - think catchy melodies, lots of keyboards, economic arrangements, jerky rhythms, and call-and-response vocals, but Polysics add a layer of craziness to the mix by performing the music as enthusiastically as possible. Having a tight rhythm section helps - Yano (drums) and Fumi (bass) play this stuff with the sort of precision and attitude you'd associate with a band like King Crimson. But it's Hiro who really embodies the spirit of the band, not only through his wild guitar playing, but also his vocals, which aren't as much singing as they are shrieking everything at the top of his lungs.
They borrow an awful lot from their influences (nearly every release sneaks a Devo riff in there elsewhere) but have their own instantly recognizable sound that has remained fairly static. Granted, that sound has become a bit slicker over the years, for better or worse. But each new release still hammers it home that these guys aren't slowing down anytime soon. They don't have another gear.
Weeeeeeeeee!!! is another solid entry into the band's canon of hyperwave. On their last album (2011's Oh No! It's Heavy Polysick), the band seemed to suffer from the departure of their longterm keyboard player Kayo. Not a problem any more - on this album, she's been replaced with a sequencer, which the band has aptly figured out can be used to play loops quicker than any human could ('Lightning Express'). This is exactly the same revelation that P-Model also came across 13 years after their debut, by the way. The Devo references have been updated - 'Everybody Say No' contains a guitar figure suspiciously close to 'What We Do'. Otherwise, not much has changed.
They're still pumping out noisy, layered synthesizer anthems like 'Distortion' (which features a double-speed 'Whip It' drumbeat), and inscrutable rush pop such as the leadoff single 'Lucky Star'. There are still songs that sound like Hiro stuck his head into a bag of sugar and wrote a jerky makeshift guitar riff to scream over ('Raptus', 'Ice, Tights, Mike', both of which would fit on their 1998 album Neu!). There's the song where he restrains himself so he can explode in the chorus ('Quiet Smith', which dates back to 2003's 'Kaja Kaja Goo'). There's the slick take on synthesized disco that drops the lead guitar altogether to create what sounds like a parody of J-Pop 'Kitchen Ban Ban', which dates back to 2001's 'Eno'). And so on. For those keeping score, this is their best album since 2008's We Ate The Machine. It doesn't have the abrasive, confrontational aspect that marked their earlier releases - their music has become more inviting over time, as though Polysics now really want their listeners to freak out with them. That's not necessarily a condemnation, as this is a seriously fun album any way you slice it. If you've enjoyed them in the past, you'll find something here.
There was a time when you could comfortably peg Polysics as a high-wired New Wave tribute act; now that they've released more albums than their chief influences in Devo, YMO, Talking Heads, Kraftwerk and the B-52's, it seems silly to just dismiss them as such. Sure, those influences are all over the place in pop music today, but how many do it while keeping the spirit of Oingo Boingo and Sigue Sigue Sputnik's 'Love Missile F1-11' alive at the same time? And of the ones who can (think Norway's Datarock), how many have this kind of work ethic? These are no ordinary Devo fans - one of their early releases covered 'Social Fools', in spite of the fact that one, it was only available on the obscure Be Stiff vinyl EP at the time, and two, Hiro does not really speak much English.
13 years later, they had willed themselves onto the scene to the point where their cover of 'Mecha-Mania Boy' (a New Traditionalists B-side) featured Mothersbaugh himself. Even Devo got sick of being Devo after a while, and their Japanese contemporaries in P-Model, the Plastics, and YMO all moved on from this brand of technopop after a few years. But the Poly-machine clangs on. Every year, they seem to get a little more proficient and a little more intense, but they pigeonhole themselves even further. They've managed to become one of those rare breeds who constantly borrow from their influences yet have their own space mapped out, as you wouldn't mistake these guys for any other group of psychos. If you're someone who loves New Wave - I mean, really, really, really loves New Wave - they're perhaps the best thing going today.