By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
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By Alex Distefano
In the dream, it went like this: we heard the last half of a Cecil Leuter LP, whispering tape loops over the trans-Pacific fiber-optic lines. Polysics guitarist/singer Hiroyuki Hayashi excused himself for a moment, set a cocktail on the console of a standup Boonga-Boonga arcade game—the object of which is to jam a plastic finger up your boss' or ex-girlfriend's plastic ass as rapidly and forcefully as your own flesh and bone will allow—and then carefully told us why Polysics love Devo.
"Devo were an important band, probably the most forward-thinking band of that wave of punk," he'd say, "certainly more so than Screamers, whose innovation stalled at simple media manipulation, and definitely more so than the New York no-wavers—they were so self-consciously avant-garde they almost flipped back over to reactionary. A band like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks is a closed system. But Devo? There are theoretical implications to Devo that will take decades to sift out. People should write papers. We write songs."
But he didn't really say that. Did not say that. Didn't say anything, even, because Polysics are from Japan and speak Japanese, and the label couldn't wrangle a translator in time for an interview. But Polysics do love Devo, to a level of detail that surpasses simple slavishness, and it should be because they understand what Devo was about. If you can accept that a million minutes of bleep-bloop stuck-in-thee-new-wave dork music was predicated on a little-known book by a crackpot German proto-Nazi (the music Devo, the author Oscar Kiss Maerth—when you see it, you'll understand), then you can suck down 600 words predicated on a band we never talked to. Polysics' new album, Neu, says a lot—the question is just why?Neu's influences are obvious, sure—though there's little if any of the krautrock band Neu! in there, oddly—but it's in a desperate, frantic way: instead of frigid innovation for innovation's sake—what critics call a plea for help—Polysics are just taking an established vocabulary and trying to start a new conversation. "Each Life Each End" is pretty much "Girl U Want" with new lyrics ("Something's rotten in/Ohaio [sic]. . ."), but it's okay: Devo was Ike Turner; Polysics are the New York Dolls. Or maybe Devo was Xenakis, and Polysics are Eno. It's like how the Navy bounces laser signals off mirrors on the moon: 20 years later, back comes our initial datum . . . except it's somehow changed—faster, stronger, meaner and mechanized from the outside in.
Makes sense: isn't that the arc for 21st century society anyway? And isn't everything Devo figured out even faster-stronger-meaner now? And isn't Japan the most fertile place to ask those questions—maybe that speeded-out barfing sarariman on the subway platform could help answer them, because Polysics camouflages exactly what they mean under poker-faced, robo-performance and matching jumpsuits (same as those Ohioans, the better to evade the blows of the devo-ed). The way Polysics shred keyboards and guitars and vocals through every eight-bit techno-degradation device, there's no way to tell if a song like "I'm a Worker" ("Sooner or later the day will coming/I will go to heaven and work as before/day by day, day by day, my life is like the way/I'm a hard worker/it's not too bad!") is something happy, sad, or just flatly true. Here's Polysics' first world: could be worse, yeah, but could be a lot better, too, huh? "There's no need to worry," says Hiroyuki (on the record; he really says it). "Just X-rays are passing through me, and this is my life."
So Devo gets the credit for coming up with the cog-rock shtick. But Polysics can get a little adoration of their own for underlining and highlighting so enthusiastically—that's something all quality students need to learn to do—and for not letting up on a set of aesthetics that sputtered out somewhere past the "Whip It!" video (What's the it? we once asked Mothersbaugh. "Stupidity," he said coldly.) De-evolution parades on yet harder, faster and meaner; Polysics just keep pace. They know their duty: "This is my life!" Hiroyuki yells on the last five minutes of Neu. "The end!"