By Space Cowboy
To open, some interesting facts about Polysics:
1. They are a Japanese band
2. They have been around since 1999
3. Mao Murakami, the young girl who dances in their videos, lives in a Buddhist temple
4. They are named after the Korg Polysix, a synthesizer in Korg’s mighty arsenal
5. They are mad
6. They are so fucking cool I want to hump everything when I hear them
My very first encounter with Polysics was in my hairdresser and all-round amazing friend’s car, en route to some or other evening of live music. She, like me, is something of a Japanophile, and her childlike excitement at playing them to me for my virgin taste of this odd bunch had me thinking I was in for something silly and mad (the Japanese are, after all, very good at silly and mad). And I wasn’t disappointed, when they delivered more than I’d ever thought possible. I was transfixed. It literally took 20 seconds of listening before I became permanently hooked on these bat-shit-crazy ‘technicolour pogo punks’.
The song in question was their cover of My Sharona. I’m not certain how much of our readership has heard of Polysics, but if you’re at all curious about this openly-influenced-by-Devo act, I strongly suggest going onto Youtube and listening to it. It sums up their sound and ethos completely and brilliantly. If modern science ever managed to figure out how to harness the raw, boundless energy of this track alone, it could power all of Japan for a month. And when you consider that Polysics have released a full studio album every year since 1999 – excluding 2006 when they toured extensively – ‘boundless’ is no exaggeration.
However, some of their more recent albums have been slightly disappointing, seeming to drag under the weight of the unforgiving Japanese work ethic. Not for a lack of energy, but perhaps a lack of inspiration. So, what of the latest album? Should you get your ears on it? And do I recommend it to those who perhaps have not heard them before? Damn fuckin’ skippy!
First and foremost, 15thP pays homage to Polysics’ entire career; the album is packed with clips and riffs from some of their greatest tracks. ありがTOISU! (Ariga Toisu), track 2 on 15thP in particular, serves as a madcap smorgasbord of their most loved line-up. Nintendo-core synths pop, blip and jive over frontman Hiroyuki Hayashi’s driving guitars and howling vocals, while Fumi hits the bass hard as usual, with a furiosity that belies her delicate features (I kinda love her). It’s a synth-punk odyssey that lasts 4:50, and never gets old. Probably because your average Polysics fan, myself included, is too busy recognising parts of their favourite songs and jumping and dancing the clothes off themselves in their bedroom. Though, I suspect the latter may just be my thing.
Now, it would be disrespectful of me to jump straight to the second track, without mentioning the first, Buggie Technica 2012. It really is the stuff Polysics are made of. With an intro that hearkens back strongly in structure to the aforementioned My Sharona cover, to the menacing guitar that reminds one of The Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia intro (the Dead Kennedys also happened to cover My Sharona, in a less flattering and gut-rippingly funny version), it kickstarts the album with the usual vitamin-X-infused power the band is not only loved for but also quite comfortable with providing. It’s like a beautiful, 2:46 long train wreck with a nuke attached to the roof of the engine room. Thinking about it is making me very excited.
Moving on, I must admit that this album is not perfect. There are just two tracks that I simply don’t get, and it’s possible that this is no fault on the part of the band; their music is highly referential and as such, I am probably missing a thematic link here and there, not to mention that some of their songs simply elude my Japanese level. But I want to get those out of the way before I continue my fanboy rant.
Track 3, titled Mix Juice, could have been about half as long an would have easily accomplished what it set out to do, in my opinion. The lyrics are a quite beyond me (being highly colloquial, I can’t make out what’s being said here even with my trusty Japanese-English dictionary), and the guest artist is one I’ve not heard of before. The guitar riff also gets a little monotonous at times and I can’t seem to place the track in the grand scheme of the album – all in all, to make use of a HORRIBLE pun, it just sounds a little bit diluted, as the name might suggest (send me your hate mail, please).
The other track that concerns me is number 8, titled 1.2.ダー! (1.2.DA!). It also features a guest artist I’ve never heard of, one Mayumi Kojima. I went and did a bit of research and found that this song seems to cater more to her music than Polysics, and while it’s not a terrible song, it would be a lot better if she shut her fucking annoying yap more often and let Hiro-san scream at our ears a little more.
Right, moving on. Track 4, with the hilarious title ムチとホース (which could translate to Whip and Hose, but is meant to mean ‘whip and horse’). It’s not only a great name, but a funky song too. The opening lyrics, ‘Yo-ho, yo-ho, whip and horse, you are number one!’ are a great example of the occasional satirical bent they take towards clichés attributed to the West from the East and vice versa, and their disapproval of mainstream capitalism and consumerism. Apart from the hardcore Nintendo-core sound of the song, my favourite thing about it is the use of soundclips of famous Japanese commentator Ichiro Furutachi, who some of you might know from the Sony Max channel’s Ninja Warrior. I could wax lyrical about how the horse-race style of his commentary dehumanises the contestants and makes a product out of honest Japanese people in line with the title, but to be honest, I’d rather have a casual wank to some uninspiring hentai. It’s really a great song.
Track 5 follows thematically by Hiro-san’s stop-start lyrics, in keeping with the horse-race commentator style of the previous song, and then propels the listener forward with frenetic punk riffs and ear-scorching synth interludes. It gets the blood pumping alright. I suddenly feel myself becoming rigid.
Track 6 is an interesting one. REALLY interesting. Apart from the stellar list of guest-hosts the band employed to do the chanting (none of which you will have heard of), it’s the chanting itself that is fascinating. It is essentially the Balinese Kecak, a ritual chant alluding to the tale of a monkey-king coming to Prince Rama’s aid in the Ramayana. The title of the track is 友達ケチャ (Friend Kecak), so the reference is fairly obvious. But whether the band picked up on it from the 1988 Anime classic Akira or from the 1992 art film Baraka is anyone’s guess. Without sounding too much like a hippy about it, I find the track extremely rousing, and I’m honestly not making a boner reference here. There’s a primal energy that runs through it that follows and compliments the bands own energy, and is yet something very different to the rest of the album, which I always enjoy.
Track 7 might just be every fans dream come true: a cover of the DEVO B-side Mecha-Mania Boy, complete with collaborative vocals from the man himself, Mark Mothersbaugh. I have to admit, I didn’t realise it was him until I went to Amazon.co.jp and looked up the record to confirm a few song titles. When I saw it, I listened again and it all made sense. I’ll make no claims to being a huge DEVO nerd; in fact, I only learned of them through Polysics, and then got to listening to some of the more popular tracks. But they were a great band that informed one of my favourite bands, and therefore are my friends. Please do yourself a favour and download this song alone if you aren’t keen on the whole album. If you’re into DEVO, J-rock, synth-pop, synth-punk, or any of the other associated terms you might find linked to Polysics, you will LOVE this cover. It is perhaps the catchiest and most accessible track to non-Japanese listeners, the lyrics being sung in English, and manages to keep the ‘spirit of Devo’ (as the Polysics themselves call it) as well as their own spirit alive in a perfect symbiosis. With the bands supreme musicianship, the heavy new-wave and post-punk influence mixed with plenty of contemporary punk-synth riffs and Motherbaugh’s evergreen vocals, it really doesn’t get better than this. Can someone fetch me a tissue?
Finally, track 9 titled 783640 (783640 in English) is a fantastic playoff. It has the same mean energy as the opening track, and some very groovy rockabilly licks and sexy piano samples by keys-wizard Satoshi Mishiba. The anthem-like chorus is such fun, I get all worked up singing along to it. It’s a confirmation of the fun that this band brings to its listeners, and we all owe them a great debt of thanks for it. Sometimes, I don’t know what we ever did to deserve it.
Polysics 15thP is scored at a healthy 85% turgidity.
As this fiercely obvious anime reference would imply, Space Cowboy is a fiercely enthusiastic geek, and as such, brings something fresh to geek-journalism. That is to say, freshly squeezed wads of man-berry juice, frantically issued all over anything tech, gaming, and/or Japan related. He does hope you enjoy said bukkake-esque levels of enthusiasm.