By Adam Lovinus
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By Mike Seeley
It's good-weird that in the same week J-pop's Olsen Twins, Puffy AmiYumi, come to town, Orange County is treated to an even more J-something opportunity with Tokyo spazz-rock Devo-tees Polysics. (They're opening for Say Anything and Hellogoodbye on the MySpace Music tour.)
If the Puffys are everything great and terrible about J-pop, which can be as subservient to the music industry as it is subversive in successfully rolling with its changes, then Polysics are everything J-pop is not. Where J-pop, is, well, pop, Polysics are herky-jerky, new-wave synth-punk rendered in id-tastic ALL-CAPS musical TXTS. And then there's their look, which makes them resemble a Devo homage as much as they do characters from an as-yet-uninvented anime video game based on Owen Wilson's bank robbers in Bottle Rocket.
About the wardrobe, the Polysics' Hiro Hayashi explains in charmingly broken English via e-mail, "It looked to me far more 'punk' (than a bad boy's crying out like 'No Future!" holding his middle finger up) when a group of people, apparently having a glass jaw, with spectacles on, showing techno hairdo, wearing matching yellow jump suit, and getting up a sweat, sing loud punk songs like broken robots. I felt and found a real craziness in that style."
Hayashi writes the way Polysics plays—in spazzy, choppy phrases in a language not always his own. (Besides singing in Japanese and English, Hayashi makes up his own "space language"—finally liberating alt-rock glossolalia from those wussy-coos Sigur Rós.)
But as jagged and glitchy as Hayashi and Polysics can be, both get their point across, even if that's just to indulge the kinetic energy of rushing along being all jagged and glitchy. Polysics' latest collection, Polysics or Die!!! VISTA, is MySpace Music's crash-course in poly-sci, gathering EPs, singles, even a Red Bull-and-cough-syrup version of the Knack's "My Sharona" from their Japanese discography. It's a sometimes annoying, sometimes sarcastic video-game freakout of a disc, like the Boredoms channeled through the red energy domes of Devo.
Hayashi and co. met Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh and the rest of the band when they dropped into his WeHo studio on Sunset. He called them Devo's "absolute heir," Hayashi says. But he is also quick to put the many mentions of the D-word (five so far in this article and counting!) in context. "Without them, Polysics would not exist. That's why we always insert a credit, 'Special Thanks to DEVO,' in our all albums. We are influenced by them in terms of humorous cynicism, but I think our performance style is different."
Well, yeah. "Catch on Everywhere" starts like any other well-intentioned punk-funk/Gang of Four homage, until the helium-pitched vocals kick in and you realize the Polysics might be taking the proverbial piss. Then there are song titles like "KAJA KAJA GOO," "NEW WAVE JACKET (reform)" and "New Wave Hotline."
For a band with so many rough edges, Hayashi sure throws around the N-phrase a lot. "For me, 'new wave' means that the music which nobody has been ever exposed, and which makes their heart excited . . . It just does not fit the mold; therefore, it can be very interesting music genre," he says, then stops just shy of overanalyzing.
"I want the fans of Polysics to simply feel our rock and would be glad if they can enjoy it without thinking anything difficult," he writes. "There's no message in our songs. Although, while there's no message, I stick with choosing the word that sounds very strong when let out." Which explains why, when he can't find them in Japanese or English, he makes them up.
And audiences aren't showing up at Polysics gigs to hear lyrics. Maybe to deliver a wall-sized mural of a painting that looks like a crime scene inspired by one of their songs, as one Arizona fan did, but not to take notes. Hayashi is inspired by the difference between fans back home coming to a gig for a night out and the American fanatic. Back in the day, it was the one weirdly normal-looking guy at, say, a Psychic TV show. Now it's guys like the mural-painter, and Polysics is the band to egg them on.
"Every time I return to the U.S. and the fans are getting more crazy, I assure myself that our music has been reaching to them in the right direction," he says. "When someone comes to a show and says, 'American rock is dead. I have been waiting for the band like yours,' I feel genuine pleasure."