To paraphrase the late John Peel, this record does not fade in rather slowly. It wakes you up to the possibility that music can be simultaneously unusual, raucous, and catchy by kicking you in the private parts.
The new album from Polysics Now Is the Time contains their familiar assortment of DEVOesque “technicolor pogo punk”. For the uninitiated this means that the record is a blend of punk sensibilities and synth-pop much in the way that DEVO promised but never quite delivered. The band may look like the aforementioned DEVO with their Day-Glo boiler suits, but musically they use Mark Mothersbaugh & Co. really only as a jumping off point. They are like DEVO only in the same way that The Ramones were inspired by surf and bubble gum. That is to say that you can hear where they are coming from but they sound like their source material cranked up to eleven to the power of the first number that comes into your head.
Polysics are Japanese, which means that it is hard for this Westerner to decipher what the songs on this album are actually about. Frankly, lead singer Hiroyuki Hayashi could be reading his shopping list. Moreover, Hayashi’s libretto jumps around all over the place; he sometimes uses English, sometimes Japanese, and sometimes their own invented “space language”. So the potential language barrier is leapt over by simply rendering language itself irrelevant. Indeed, the music does the talking here, and the music mostly wants you to mosh around and bang your head. In fact, this review took longer than anticipated because I had to leave it paused on my Mac while I did just that around my office.
“I My Me Mine” is a prime example of this and of what Polysics have to offer. The song pogos along at furious rate until the chorus blows in, replete with recorder. This instrument adds a cutesy or sinister element depending on your perspective. The track itself is somewhat spikey and recalls some of the more punky elements of Toni Basil. (Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would write that sentence.) The opener “Teil Teil Teil” is a straight ahead punker that sounds more like the bastard child of The Damned, Big Black and (alright they do sound like them quite a bit) DEVO. Further on in running order they change tack slightly by employing a Talking Heads-style white funk on the rather first-rate “Boy’s Head”. All in all what we have here is the awkward reminder of big hair, (really) bright colours, and shoulder pads. Yep, it’s the 1980s baby!
It might be easy, because of their quirky dress sense and quirkier still tunes, to write Polysics off as a novelty act. Do that at you peril. Sure there is humour in a lot of the tunes on Now Is the Time, perhaps more than it is possible to discern. However, this is not a comedy act. The energy of their live performance bleeds into this studio recording. Main man Hayashi owns the audience on stage and provides a raw and honest performance that you would not usually associate with electro tinged music.
If you have never come across Polysics before, this album would be quite a good jumping on point. You should also check out Neu and the “best of” from last year Polysics or Die!!!! or better still go and see them live at some point on their current tour. I can see no reason why this album should not increase the cohort of Polysics fans outside of Japan (where they are already big news). Granted, if you are 30-something then you may have heard similar sounds before, but never played with such vim or vigour.