Polysics

A lot of times you see modern music that recalls the music of 15 or so years ago; newer groups that play in kind of an older style, with modern elements and production styles mixed in. For example, Paul Weller was a huge fan of the Who growing up, and the Jam played the same kind of guitar-heavy garage rock (and became fairly successful in the process). The same could be said for XTC, who grew up listening to the Beatles, the Zombies, and the Kinks, and mastered the same type of lush pop sound they did throughout the 80's. At the turn of the millennium you would start to see the same among kids who grew up with New Wave or post-punk and decided to eventually start bands that would mimic those styles. Tokyo's Polysics are those kids - they seem to draw upon some particular New Wave groups of the late 70's that they (particularly bandleader Hiro Hayashi) were obsessed with at one point. Specifically, the band seems to be very influenced by Devo, and any fan of that group would probably recognize a lot of the elements of Polysics, both visually and audibly. They don't really try to cover that up - Hiro frequently mentions Devo in interviews, and all of their albums reference the band in some way. But that's not really the whole story; the group is also influenced heavily by the Plastics and the first two P-Model albums. In fact, their playing probably reflects P-Model's early period more than anything - the group could (and did) play a song from an early P-Model album you'd never know they didn't write it. Their image is a combination of Devo and P-Model (believe it or not, there is another band called PEVO which combines these very two influences, and Polysics' early costumes looked strikingly similar to theirs). Their sound is a lot like the Plastics, particularly the squeaky, too-cute vocals from keyboard player Kayo (and often bassist Fumi) that punctuate some of the tunes. Finally, there is the instrumentation which in many cases does seem taken from Devo - angular, processed guitars, vintage sounding synths (from which this group took their name), and high-pitched, excited vocals.

Despite the fact that I've just gone off on how much they lifted from other bands, I'm still going to claim that they have a unique sound, mostly because Hiro is a balls-to-the-wall performer, taking all these influences and dialing them as far up as he could go. He does have an okay singing voice but he mostly shouts in a David Lee Roth-style falsetto, which is pretty intense since his normal voice is high-pitched as it is. For this reason he is entertaining as hell, and his voice one of the group's main selling points. His counterpoint is Kayo, who plays and sings in a very robotic, motionless style. But this group is pretty one-track, as they really do play fast and uptempo almost all the time. In a way, this is like Andrew W.K. turned New Wave - they do have a few slower tunes, but for the most part they stay in the red, always jittery, manic, and loud. For big New Wave aficionados such as myself, this group is a blessing - they do some "half-covers" of some of my favorite songs of that era, and have been fairly consistent throughout a rather prolific decade-plus career. They embody the sound and spirit of a lot of the groups that I’ve been a fan of so long, from Devo and P-Model to Talking Heads and XTC. In fact, a majority of the things they do are a reference to one of those bands.

While it's somewhat fair to pan the group a bit for "borrowing" some themes and ideas, I think they probably assume that their audience is already familiar with Q: Are We Not Men, In a Model Room, and White Music, as they never really claim to be anything more than a giant tribute. But the majority of their music is original, and Polysics do eclipse their idols in a few ways. For one, Devo was never this entertaining and energetic, not even in their early years. Secondly, they are an absolute blast live. If you have the chance to see them, please do. I've seen a ton of shows in my life and I've never come across a group with the same type of unbridled enthusiasm as these guys (Andrew W.K. excepted). Thirdly, that level of enthusiasm translates into the music, as Polysics sound fresh on most of their releases and come out with new stuff fairly regularly. That's not to say all their albums are great, but they at least sound like they're trying, and they never seem bored or listless the way some New Wave groups were later in their career. If nothing else, these guys definitely leave an impression. Most of their gigs in America are as opening acts, and from what I've seen they basically steal the show and gain a new group of fans each show (while the rest of the audience stares ahead, baffled).

1st P (1999)
A brief 6-song, 15-minute debut EP. As I understand it this lineup was a bit different than on later releases. Despite it being such an early release, you can really see all the group's trademarks here - precise, clean synth lines taking center stage through high-energy tunes ("Plus Chicker"), overly loud guitar riffing ("Buggie Technica"), and the Devo references ("Which!" either quotes or samples the guitar solo from their cover of "Secret Agent Man"). There's also a great cover of a Plastics tune ("Good") that's straight rock n' roll. "Buggie Technica" is my favorite track on the album - it's an intensely distorted and multi-part surf-rock jam that makes it sound as though the speakers are being blown. Not a bad sampler for the group - while their songs would get louder and more complex, they've pretty much stuck to this blueprint their entire career. If you like this, you'll definitely be able to get into this group. My version (the 2009 reissue) contains two bonus tracks from the Plus Chicker single, including a cover of Devo's "Secret Agent Man" cover, which makes Hiro's inability to speak English clear - he seems to get the melody right, but garbles most of the words, and the result is hilarious. Interesting to note that they replace the guitar solo with the Bond theme, maybe because they already sampled it on "Which". I almost wonder if Hiro knew this song was a cover in the first place.

A.D.S.R.M! (1999)
This was billed as a full album, though it doesn't eclipse half an hour. A good companion piece to the last release. Has a lot of riff-based tracks ("Hot Stuff", "Modern") and fast-paced New Wave sounding tunes with a lot of synth layers ("Eleki Gassen", "Married to a Frenchman"). It's not clean like other synth-based New Wave such as Depeche Mode or even YMO, but rather kind of like punk music with Pac-Man sound effects in the background. Like Devo, they would often double a live drum track with a drum machine rhythm (which are the same presets that you'd hear on a Plastics album). It’s more song-based and less crazy than the last release (and most future ones). The exceptions are the two short instrumentals that open the album - the title track sounds like a version of the bleepy jam sections that Kraftwerk would do during "Pocket Calculator", and "Poly-Farm" is loud, unrestrained, and previews the next LP. Short and fun, this is a good listen from start to finish. The song "Pike" is a Hikashu cover. As a whole the album sounds kind of like a harder-edged Plastics, though they don't cover them directly, sometimes you'd be surprised ("Nice" is definitely a tribute). The reissue has a bonus track taken from the Modern single, a cover of Devo's early, EP-only "Social Fools", which is kind of a rare track as it is. It's as faithful of a cover as this band was capable of, but once again Hiro completely mangles the lyrics, although he gets a lot closer than he did on "Secret Agent Man". The result is pretty bizarre if you know the real lyrics. I think it explains why so few Japanese artists cover English-language songs without translating them first.

Hey, Bob! My Friend! (rec. 1999, rel. 2001)
A compilation release of the above two albums. 12 tracks here which means a few of the "lesser" songs were dropped. Altogether you can think of this as being like their "real" debut album since it's a decent length and is sequenced pretty well; that's why I rated this one instead of the actual releases. This was their U.S. debut. Nowadays you can get the re-issue of the first two releases which does include all the tunes plus the Devo covers. A really good first purchase since it maps out the band's sound without being overly loud and off-putting the way some of their later releases are, and even if you're partial to the later stuff you won't want to be without these songs. Just a bunch of catchy, high energy tunes in a row.

Live in Japan/6-D (2000)
A double disc companion to the first two releases. Live in Japan is the group's first live album, drawing entirely on those two releases as well as the two Devo cover B-sides. Opening track "A.D.S.R.M." has a slow intro that features some kind of duck-like robo voice; from there it's pretty much all high-octane, just like every Polysics show ever. Hiro hasn't quite learned to control himself; his voice does start to crack during the last few tracks, and the band isn't as tight as they would be a few years later. I guess the real downside to this (besides a limited set list) is the bootleg sound quality which crackles sometimes due to the noisy performance. But they play so fast n' dirty that you don't really need a pristine recording to enjoy them. It is more energetic than the studio recordings, and I can see someone preferring this release. The second disc is a set of six remixes, and they're actually decent, but kind of gimmicky and not really built for repeat plays. They kind of sound like the deconstructive remixes that Cornelius would do. The exception is the first mix of "Plus Chicker" that's full-on insane, with robotic vocals, crashing drums, piercing keyboards, and wild guitar solos. It really just has too many things going on at once which captures the Polysics spirit well. In general most of this seems like more than just the standard type of sampling + electronic production; the performance of "Monsoon" seems to be a live one. So I think the band itself had a hand in creating this - one band member was credited as co-remixer. Other than that I don't recognize any of the names. The final remix ("Nice") seems to be a collage of samples with the riff and vocals playing over the top. Overall it's not a bad collection, but kind of inessential in the grand scheme of Poly-things.

XCT (2000)
This was their major label debut. Four tracks - the first two appear on the full-length Neu! in slightly different mixes. There's a cover of Devo's "Jerkin' Back and Forth", which is surprisingly laid-back and almost jazzy, with all robotic vocals. Apparently Mothersbaugh liked it so much that he used it as the hold music for his company. The other track is a decent rock tune titled "Be Still". Overall a harder sound than the previous releases.

Each Life Each End (2000)
Another 4-track EP. The title track would appear on Neu!. The cover photo is the same as the one from XCT, except Kayo is in the middle instead of Hiro. Appropriately, Kayo is the main vocalist on all these tracks. "Tax In" and "2 Faces" seem to have very similar lyrics. Hiro does appear a few times in the background. With a lot of electronics and some really disjointed songwriting, these sound almost like the 6-D mixes at times, with some pretty heavy guitar throughout. There are a few very brief samples that I think are taken from Kraftwerk's "Numbers".

Neu! (2000)
This sounds like the group's attempt to capture their live energy on record, the result is about as off-the-wall insane as you'd expect. The album opens with a 1-2-3 punch of thundering riffs, high-pitched synths, booming drums, and Hiro's screaming. Just as the second track draws to an abrupt close, you hear Hiro yell out "ONE TWO THREE GO!" and it all starts again. Yes, this is busy music, and if certain elements central to the band such as synths and vocals get drowned out in the chaos, so be it - this album is not exactly going to win any awards for production. You can picture Hiro screaming his lungs out and thrashing around the room, and his energy translates so well that it practically makes you want to do the same yourself. If you like this type of music at all, you will not be able to sit still through this album. If you don't, you will likely turn it off within the first minute. Make no mistake, this is a New Wave record; just New Wave cranked up and played as though the band members were on coke. Hell, if they weren't able to keep up the same energy for another decade (and counting), I'd think they were! As it turns out, Hiro's just another guy who loves his favorite albums so much that he can't wait to tell you about them. While "XCT" doesn't have anything to do with Swindon's finest, the following track ("S.V.O.") most certainly does, lifting the wonky rhythm of Moulding's "Cross Wires". And the amazingly catchy headbanger "Each Life Each End" (Kayo's only lead vocal on the album) is an amalgam of several Devo tunes; most obviously the riff from "Girl U Want". They borrow from Devo later in the album too - the addictive "Plaster Caster" is a take on "Uglatto", which appeared on one of the Hardcore Devo albums! Elsewhere, there is a brief sample of a tune from Elektric Music, an obscure group whose claim to fame was that they had an ex-member of Kraftwerk; is this guy a music nerd or what? He’s one of us! You can just picture him growing up, trying to collect obscure 7"s from the Jonzun Crew or something - this guy was dedicated.

Some of the more original stuff is great too - "Go Ahead Now" is a nonstop rush of adrenaline, and "Making Sense" is a synth-drenched rocker that just so happens to be a perfectly crafted pop song. It's all about the group's attitude and unlimited energy anyway, and just at the point when it starts to hurt the ears (probably around the awesome instrumental "Cy/CB" or pulsating synth-fest "X-Rays"), they do finally throw in a downtempo half-song ("What") to calm things down a bit. Oh, but that one explodes into balls-to-the-wall speed rock three minutes in, by which point you can only wonder what took them so long. Everything comes to a head on "Urge On!!" (maybe deserving of a few more exclamation points), the loudest and busiest track, with so many synth lines and guitar solos struggling for attention that Hiro's vocals actually get buried into the mix. Here, everything awesome (and obnoxious) about the album is on display; the song sounds ready to blow your speakers at any moment. Don't get me wrong; this album isn't perfect. They could have used a little more production work, and not all the tunes are that good – in fact, the whole middle of the album (after "Making Sense" but before "What") is kind of forgettable. But I have to give it credit because of how genuine it sounds - people talk about how revolutionary and inspirational their favorite bands are all the time, but Hiro is a guy whose life legitimately changed the instant he got his hands on a Devo record, and it's rare to see this much enthusiasm anywhere.

Eno (2001)
They've smoothed over some of the rough edges, but Eno this is not. Polysics are still one of the most hyper bands around, and after a synth-heavy sugar rush ("Wake Up, Polysics!"), they launch into the fast-paced and manic "New Wave Jacket" that's half cutesy J-Pop and half rock star shrieking, all at a blistering pace. The big change is an increase in the number of synth parts, as they start to back two or three instruments at once. The difference is that it's less in-your-face and a little less awesome, but their songs are certainly getting a little more complex. In fact, "H Major" is an instrumental that uses two intertwined guitar lines, the same way King Crimson did during their Discipline era! I can't see the band pulling that off on their first releases. But besides "New Wave Jacket", there is only one other tune that's intense and totally balls-to-the-wall, and it does the album wonders ("KI.KA.I.DA!"). They are turning into more of a pop band, albeit a high-tempo and loud one with a lot of blippy synth noises. Some of this is just standard New Wave pop - "Commodoll" is a robo-voiced tune reminiscent of "The Model" by Kraftwerk, and Kayo's vocal spotlight "Bye Bye Red Sneaker" is a fun, nonsense on take on J-Pop. They're certainly catchy - the title track is ridiculous and chirpy, using chiptune synths and no guitars, and "Highway Rule" is a good multi-part tune with some great vocal parts. Luckily there are really no dead spots at all on this album; it's solid right up until the very end. If you noticed an uptick in the number of noticeable bass parts, it's no coincidence; Fumi (who appeared on a few tracks on the last album) signed on as a full time member, and while her fast-paced fuzz-heavy style hadn't quite developed yet, she does get one good lead (on "Commodoll").

Lo-Bits (2002)
A 4-song EP. It's kind of a teaser for the next album since it sort of previews their more pop-oriented sound, though none of these songs appear there. It's a fun release but not really anything essential. "Domo Origato, Mr. Roboto" is a half-cover; the main hook is there, but the rest of the song is very different as the original doesn't really fit the group's style. The video is pretty great. They also cover Sinatra's "My Way", which is surprising since the song doesn't fit Polysics' style at all. They turn it into some kind of boppy speed-metal hybrid - I can hear the "Each Life Each End" riff in the background. At least it's entertaining, but as a whole it doesn't really work. Overall it's a good release for the collectors.

For Young Electric Pop (2002)
Like the title says. I wouldn't exactly say they've dialed down their sound, but they're focusing more on accessibility this time around. For the most part this ditches the punk energy of their previous albums, though there’s still a lot of intensity. Most of this is really good; the title track is great, and "Colon" is super catchy and has a kind of funk energy that the Polysics don't usually have. Those are the first two tracks - the last two are a deconstructed cover of "My Sharona" and a fast acoustic (!) number that kind of sounds like "Enola Gay" ("Code4"). All of those are excellent; it's the middle section that gets into mixed territory. It's a mostly-fun batch of tunes, but in some parts you can't help but wonder "haven't they done this better before?" "Secret Candy" is the same kind of faux-J-Pop that "Bye Bye Red Sneaker" was, but this time it's as irritating as regular J-Pop. "Get Back to 8 Bit" is good, but it's kind of a rip of "Highway Rule" without the great hooks, and "Mad Mac" is kind of a generic surf instrumental, which is a category they've excelled in before. There are some gems; "Wicked Laugh" is demented and catchy, and "Black Out Fall Out" is a sweet and layered electropop tune that's sung by Kayo. There aren't as many stand-outs as there were on the previous albums, and if you already have the greatest hits Polysics or Die!!! album, there isn't much great material left to discover. All I can say is that the "My Sharona" cover is a must-hear - it's similar to Devo's "Satisfaction" in that it inverts the drumbeat and completely uproots the tune, except this one injects a good dose of craziness in the process. It has to be heard to be believed, and it’s hard to think of a better track to introduce people to the band.

Kaja Kaja Goo (2003)
A 5-song EP teaser for the next album. The title track is a different recording than the album version; the hair-metal guitar solo in the middle isn't quite there yet. The final track "Three o Three o Man/Miss Donuts" is a good contrast between the hard rock and the cheery synth pop sides of the group. They are essentially two different songs so there's a little more value than you'd think.

National P (2003)
If you thought Hiro was over-the-top before, wait until you hear this one, as he goes absolutely nuts all over this album. It's a fast paced album - 14 tracks in only 37 minutes, and that includes around a dozen guitar solos. The guy can shred, which is nice because this album has a real spastic and cartoony atmosphere that’s hard to take seriously. Songs that should probably be four minutes are done in two; not only are the songs played fast, but they trim all the fat. Listen to "Weeder"; not a second of wasted space there, and they do so much to condense it that it’s more just a rush of energy than an actual song. They certainly get to the point quick - it's not until halfway through that they even attempt something coherent ("Goodbye Melinda"), but I enjoy the album all the more for that. How can you not love something like "Lookin Lookin Gaa" - a simple and deliberately campy synth bopper with sing-songy vocals that explodes during the chorus? Both the singles are like that - "Peach Pie On the Beach" is spiraling and spastic with some ridiculous vocal lines, and "Kaja Kaja Goo" (re-recorded from the EP) is a great riff tune with an intense vocal. They're both essential, fully-written singles, and I don't know what kind of album this would be without them. Luckily, they also saw fit to include a couple of more restrained songs to finish the album out. Okay, so "LED" hardly qualifies as restrained, as it uses a double-speed version of the "Whip It" beat, but Hiro sings it more like a regular pop song, and it's as catchy as anything they've ever done. "My Room" is the real standout, a midtempo electro-disco tune with a droning guitar line and a sentimental and heavily vocoded melody. Clocking in at a whopping 4:16, it's the longest thing on here by a good margin. If there’s a slight to be taken against this album, it’s that it’s really all over the place – not quality-wise as its solid from start to finish, but there are some pretty radical jumps from track to track, and it’s hard to get a handle on it all. I’m not really sure if it makes sense as a full-length album, but I don’t think it has to. It’s just a fun and hyper pop album with some pretty whacked out vocals; if that appeals to you then this is essential.

Polysics or Die!!! (2004)
The group was picked up by the American label Tofu Records, and decided to put out a "best of" to acquaint new would-be fans to the group’s work. This was my introduction to the band. It’s a great compilation with a great title (itself a P-Model reference), representing each album about equally. Listening to this gives you a really good picture of what the band can do, which I suppose was the point. The one big collector’s note is that the 1st P and A.S.D.R.M. tracks were re-recorded with the "new" band (plus Fumi and new drummer Yano), so they have a fuller sound, particularly on the lower end. They also re-recorded "Black Out Fall Out" as a mid-tempo synth-heavy pop song, which makes it stand out from anything else here. In addition, they tend to use the EP versions of some tracks which are slightly different from what you get on the album ("Code4", "Kaja Kaja Goo", maybe some others). The one frustrating thing is that they bizarrely cut "ENO" after about 50 seconds, which I can’t really explain. Still, it’s such a clear picture of what the group does well that I can recommend even though it’s just a compilation.

Now is the Time!! (2005)
This was the first album of new material to get a (relatively) simultaneous release in the U.S. and Japan. Sadly it wasn't exactly a commercial breakthrough, but it did at least get them to do a few small U.S. tours. This one was produced by Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gil, which may explain why it sounds cleaner and more focused than previous releases. It definitely sounds like genuine 80's New Wave in spots, which I think has a lot to do with the fact that they're using the same exact guitar tone as Devo now. They only really go into warp-speed once - "Coelacanth is Android" is this album's counterpart to "Kaja Kaja Goo", and it's every bit as nuts and disorienting as their previous work. Otherwise, they focus themselves more on pop, which I guess is okay too. In particular, its pop that's so obnoxiously catchy and pristine that sometimes you wish you could un-hear it ("I My Me Mine", "Baby BIAS", "Oh! Monaliza"). But this isn't particularly different from previous Polysics albums; you get all the catchy guitar riffs, manic screaming, squiggly synths, and cheerleading you've come to expect. As they get more experienced, they're also more tongue-in-cheek - their cover of Suzi Quatro's "Wild One" features a goofy, percolating chiptune solo and very briefly quotes "Secret Agent Man" (again). And "Oh! Monaliza" resembles "Cotton-Eye Joe" more than any other Polysics tune. At first listen, this album appears to be pretty safe by their standards, but that's the sacrifice you make for an album as solid as this one - only "Rack Rack" is unmemorable, and track-for-track this is one of their strongest. I don't think this band could churn out albums like Neu! and National P on a regular basis, so it's nice that their bid for relative "normality" turns out this good. There are some standouts - "Walky Talky" is a great blippy synth-rock tune that appears to speed up as it chugs along (which is kind of just an aural illusion, as the song is actually just played faster than it should be the whole time), "Boy's Head" is a clever and choppy funk workout that shows the bottom of Hiro's range, and "Skip It" is melodically strong and has a powerful sentimental feel. That said, the whole album is so full of upbeat and hooky tunes ("Ah-Yeah!", "Jhout", "Wild One") that it's hard to really pick out which are the best, and that’s a good thing indeed.

Note: The U.K. version of this album has a pretty altered tracklisting, particularly towards the end. There are four substitutions, but nothing really substantial gets cut. The "alternate" tracks are not really great either, but it is interesting to hear a rather obscure XTC sample in "Metal Coconuts" (it's the weird electronic percussion at the end of "Living Through Another Cuba").

Karate House (2007)
What can you expect from the Polysics at this point? Another album with 40-45 minutes of music chock full of good synthpop hooks, tons of energy and screaming, a handful of good singles, and a ridiculous title? This is a pretty good album, but it's pretty standard Poly-music the whole way - it doesn't branch out the way Now is the Time! did, and it's really the first inessential album they ever put out. But hey, if you like the band, pick it up anyway - it's hard to induce a grin through an entire album, but the Polysics have done it every time out, and this isn't an exception. The cool thing is that they seem to be actually getting betteras a band every album. I mean, "Electric Surfin' Go Go" is the kind of smooth pop anthem that the early band wasn't really capable of, and the chorus of "everybody, go, go!" alongside clanging synth noise is pure bliss. "Pro Tennis" is another standout, in that it seems to almost be a self-parody; it begins as a shout-along frenzy, then warps into hard rock, with a cute mini-guitar solo, and even a brief ska section - all in barely two minutes! They do addictive synth-heavy guitar-lite pop as well as anybody, especially with an all-sugar and no-spice vocalist like Kayo ("Yume Uchikomi"), and they still can be thunderous and incomprehensible when they feel like it ("Superman"). The Devo love continues - "Jinsei no Hai" is a fun tune with a twisted bass line that borrows the verses from "Too Much Paranoias", and "Polysics or Die" even gives the group their own wonky "Jocko Homo" theme. It doesn't quite work, but it at least scores a point in the "bizarre" column. This time there's some respect paid to P-Model as well, covering one song from their debut LP ("The Great Brain", listed here as "Idainaru Zunou"), and it's astounding - they take an already tricky riff and vocal line and play it at double speed, and the result is one of the best songs on the album. What about the singles? Well, "Electric Surfin' Go Go" is the best, while follow-up single "Catch on Everywhere" is as close to vomit-inducing bubblegum pop as they get, using sped-up chipmunk-style vocals during the verses. And while I don't think they were released as singles, there are three surprisingly good pop songs stacked at the end ("Always Happiness", "You-You-You", and "Shizuka is a Machine Doctor"...cute Ramones reference isn't it?). Maybe it's not the most memorable album in the Polysics repertoire and maybe it has a few throwaway tracks, but do they really do anything wrong? It's good, enjoyable, and energetic synth-pop. Plus, check out the lyrics to "Shizuka is a Machine Doctor":

"Lost my left hand / Cannot play guitar / What can I do? / Dissatisfaction, oh! / Please fix my hand / Cannot drink beer / Help yourself / Dissatisfaction / Oh dear me / What the hell gives?"

Then, after the chorus:

"Thank you for helping me / I can play guitar now / But something's wrong now / What shall I do? / Oh no, it's happened again!"

How can you not love these guys?

Polysics or Die - Vista (2007)
The band signed to Myspace records for U.S. distribution, and would up as part of a bizarre tour that paired them up with three pretty terrible and generic teenage emo/rock bands. This comp was basically made to accompany the tour; since most of the band's albums are hard to get in America anyway, I guess they felt better if they just put all their best stuff on one album to hopefully sell to their new fans. 9 songs from Now is the Time!/Karate House, 7 from the earlier albums seemingly chosen to showcase all the different things the group can do (ranging from guitar-onslaught tracks like "Go Ahead Now!" to smooth, polished bubblegum pop like "Black Out Fall Out").

I do wonder about the "Vista" title - it seems to be a play on Microsoft's then-new operating system, but could it also be a reference to a song on P-Model's 1992 self-titled album? You make the call!

We Ate the Machine (2008)
I suppose you can copy and paste the first two sentences of my Karate House review, because this is more or less the same thing. But it's better; it rocks a little harder, the hooks are a little better, and there's practically no filler. There's more metal, and I mean that in the most 80's way possible - opener "Moog is Love" is like Van Halen performing "Robot Rock", and "Pony to Lion" even has talk box guitars! With a few exceptions the synths don't really lead the music anymore; most of the main hooks are played on guitar, and half of the synth parts are just electronic noise without a melody. This is definitely a rock album; neither Kayo nor Fumi get a lead, and there are only two pure pop songs; one with a piano melody so dissonant that it almost sounds like something off of Trout Mask Replica ("DNA Junction"). The other is a smooth, pure synth/chiptune track with vocoder that's fun and a little tongue-in-cheek - sort of a cross between "My Room" and the music from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. In fact, a lot of this harkens back to old material - "Kagayake" has a left-field and very catchy chorus just like "Highway Rule", and the way "Arigatou" transforms from lo-fi technopop to full-out rock is definitely reminiscent of "What". It's actually pretty amazing; here we are, eight or nine albums in (depending on what you count) and they're still as much fun as ever, not to mention even more prone to stick in your head ("Boys & Girls", "Digital Coffee", "Irotokage"; all top notch cuts). And they're still pumping out good singles; "Rocket" is a simple synth tune sung by Kayo that launches into a manic, warp-speed chorus (just like "Lookin Lookin Gaa"). "Pretty Good" was the other single, and it's a little more unique, with Jerry Lee Lewis style piano jamming underneath a great bass riff. So what's the downside? That it's pretty much the same spastic New Wave that they've been pumping out since Eno? Hell, give 'em credit - they know what they do well and they try to do it better each time out. That they're still ripping off songs that were written 30 years ago? (In this case, closer "Dry or Wet" is a half-rewrite of XTC's "Neon Shuffle") I don't really mind it once or twice an album; and nobody's really doing this kind of sound right now anyway. Besides, who cares when the music is this good?

We Ate the Show!! (2008)
This is a live album that I believe came with a DVD (that I haven't seen). With Polysics live you always know what you're going to get - a ridiculous amount of energy, a good selection of tunes, and Hiro screaming at the top of his lungs. If there's one knock against them it's that they don't really change things up too much live, but they do add a few new solos and drum fills here and there. It's not as though there is a lot of open space in these songs. I don't really have much to say about this, it's just a ridiculously entertaining and well-recorded live set that just never lets up. The setlist is mostly lot of We Ate the Machine and Karate House tunes with a few earlier "hits" thrown in like "Kaja Kaja Goo" or "New Wave Jacket". But there's no real low points; in fact the tempo never lets up until the last two songs ("Baby BIAS" and "Electric Surfin' Go Go"). It's impressive just how tight the rhythm section of Fumi and Yano is; I can't imagine how much energy it would take just to keep up with Hiro the entire time. In fact, towards the end of the recording, it's the audience that sounds tired! This isn't really a must-have; no rare stuff or big variations on anything, just a tight and solid live set that will leave you jittery for the rest of the day.

Absolute POLYSICS (2009)
Well, you know what they say; absolute Polysics corrupt absolutely. Or, if you prefer; "POLYSICS will eat themselves". This is the last album to feature long-standing member Kayo, who left the band ("graduated") after 13 years. I am guessing that they decided to bang out one more for posterity, as this sounds rushed. Even for Polysics this is fairly one-note; it's another dose of short-attention span rock, serving up new riffs and vocal mantras by the minute, but there aren't many standouts. At times it feels like the group built up a bunch of song fragments and just assembled them randomly ("Bero Bero", "E.L.T.C.C.T.", "Speed Up"). You will be entertained, but it's not as memorable as past releases. So let's focus on what works - "Shout Aloud!" might be their most hyper single since the days of Neu!, and that's a very good thing; the chorus with mangled robo-vocals and a pounding bass riff is one of the best things they've ever come up with. And you can always count on them to deliver something ridiculously catchy if they put their minds to it - "Beat Flash" is classic Polysics right from the start. But a lot of this album just kind of chugs along with little rhyme or reason, as these songs aren't as carefully written as they were on We Ate the Machine. Also, the production is a lot more jagged this time around, so it doesn't have the clean sound of the last three albums. It's less friendly, but they still tear - the energy never stops, and the songwriting is generally good ("Saimin Jutsu de GO", "Eye Contact"). They've toned down the pop aspect of their sound, although they do toss off a generic-sounding pop song that's more or less straight ("Cleaning"). It isn't very good - on this record they're at their best when the music is fast and dirty. Yes, some of the songs just lead up to Hiro screaming out the title ("Fire Bison", "First Aid"), but it's hard to do wrong when you're this energetic. As for Kayo, she takes on kind of a diminished role, as though they're already planning for her departure. The synths are mostly in the background, and they sound primitive - not in a Kraftwerk circa-'81 way, but rather as though the noises were farmed from electronic toys from the 80's and 90's like the Speak n' Spell. She only gets one lead, and it's a good one - "Wasabi" is a brilliantly catchy number with a xlyophone solo that's so perfectly chirpy that you'd think they lifted it from the Plastics. Like National P, this album leaves you wondering what the hell happened (it's also only a little over a half hour long), but unlike that album, you might not be so eager to hear it again.

Bestoisu!!! (2010)
Really, another compilation? Actually, this one may be worth seeking out - the two-disc version contains a bunch of live and unreleased tracks, including the stuff that only made the UK edition of Now is the Time!!. The first disc only contains tracks that were released past the first Polysics or Die!!! collection, so maybe they're meant to form a set? Some of the unreleased stuff is pretty entertaining. The original version of "First Aid" is a lot better than the one that actually made the album, for what that's worth.

Budokan or Die!!!! 2010.3.14 (2010)
This is (so far) only a DVD release, but I'll list it anyway. This was Kayo's final show with the band and apparently kind of a big deal. They really went all out; not only is the performance amazing but the song selection seems to balance out everything they've done. If you're a fan of the group you really ought to own at least one DVD of these guys playing, and it's hard to imagine a better one than this. Hopefully there will be a CD release in the future...

eee-P!!! (2010)
A 5-song release showcasing the "new" Kayo-less Polysics. Still lots of synth. Most of this is straightforward rock with sequencers in the background – "Rock Wave Don’t Stop" struck me as the best track, though the techno overdrive of "Boil" is interesting as well. This is their only EP release that doesn’t overlap with any album and doesn’t really have a "single", but it’s a good indication that the band is still alive despite losing an important member.

Oh! No! It's Heavy Polysick!!! (2011)
This is their first album without Kayo, though it sounds so much like the last album that the only real difference is that she doesn't do any vocals (instead, Fumi does a bunch). They’re crawling further down the Poly-hole, as they’re in blip-rock plow mode through the whole album, which shortchanges the songs that could have swung a little ("Smile to Me"). The problem when it comes to actually rating this is that the songs are usually fairly decent and the album as a whole is not weak, but there aren't really any highlights if you've heard the band before. Just like Absolute Polysics, the album starts with a short instrumental before launching into a super-quick, bass-heavy groove that totally reminds of "Shout Aloud!"; not as good, but still worth hearing ("Bleeping Hedgehog"). My problem with this is that they're not really doing the same type of odd and catchy tunes that they used to do - "Subliminal CHA-CHA-CHA" is the only thing that really strikes me as offbeat, in line with the kind of things Devo filled their albums with (even taking a line from "Social Fools", which they've covered before), and there are no real surprises like "Wasabi" this time around. They don't have a lot of ideas, which make the longer songs seem labored ("Smile to Me", "3 Point Time", both around 4 minutes, an eternity in Poly-time). The better moments generally seem to replicate their past successes; there's an infectious nonsense singalong ("Let's Dabadaba"), and a blistering short instrumental like "Poly-Farm" ("Cough Cough"). It's one of those albums where I can't really tell if the second half is weaker or if it just seems that way because it’s the same as the first half. I can't even figure out what the singles are supposed to be. It’s not until the time shift in "Have a Good Night" (the last track!) that they pull off something unexpected, which illustrates what this album (and the last one) was missing all along. Otherwise, the only real standout is Fumi’s bass playing, which is pretty great throughout. Not a bad record, but for the devoted only.

15th P (2012)
A special EP to either commemorate the band's 15th year, or 15th release (depending on how you count). Almost everything on this one either features a guest vocalist or is a tribute to the band's past, but there is some pretty interesting stuff here. After another run-through of their signature instrumental ("Buggie Technica 2012"), they take on a massive, five-minute tribute to their back catalogue, where they play the guitar/bass/drum line from one tune, merge it with the vocal from another, and add in the synths from a third one ("Ariga Toisu!"). I'd guess there's something like fifty songs referenced here (though I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it includes pretty much everything they've done - some of the quotes are very brief), and the result is dazzling, if somewhat incoherent. If nothing else, you have to wonder how many other bands (if any) would even attempt this level of fanservice. There's also a track with (supposedly) over a hundred guest vocalists, which winds up as a brief, synchronized chant that's either a tribute to Geinoh Yamashirogumi or a large-scale recreation of a section from YMO's "Neue Tanz" (or both). What's really interesting is "Mecha-Mania Boy", which is in fact a cover of the New Traditionalists B-Side, and even features Mark Motherbaugh on vocals. Polysics themselves haven't written a song this awesomely hooky in a while, so I'm not surprised that it winds up a standout. Otherwise, most of these tracks are basically the same type of music you'd find on their other recent releases, though they're generally pretty good ("Whip and Horse") and sometimes veer into odd places due to the guest vocalists ("Mix Juice" goes hip-hop in its second half). I'm not rating this, as it really is just a gift to the fans (and rather short to boot), but if you're still interested in the band, it's a worthwhile pickup.

Weeeeeeeeee!!! (2012)
That's 10 e's, three exclamation points. I've really run out of things to say about Polysics albums at this point, so let's just get down to business - this is probably the best of their post-Kayo albums, and in some ways a return to their roots. They've really fallen in love with that toy-like buzz synthesizer, but unlike the other material released since Kayo left, they actually managed to incorporate it into the music a bit more. "Lightning Express" runs the thing like a sequencer and lets it go into overdrive in the chorus, while "Kitchen Ban Ban" uses it to trade off with the vocals in an interesting way. By this time, they may have run out of New Wave tunes to crib - "Everybody Say No" lifts a bit of the guitar line from Devo's 2010 single "What We Do", but otherwise they're mostly left on their own. The music here is actually quite technical, with jerky rhythms everywhere and angular guitar lines wrapping around the synths, but this is still pop, and the vocals are the focus. If anything, Hiro's voice is getting higher as he gets older, and the fact that he can pull off something like the title track after presumably abusing his vocal chords for 15 years is quite incredible. Like pretty much every other Polysics album, you've got your obnoxiously catchy pop tunes that are mostly done straight ("Lucky Star", "Kitchen Ban Ban"), some big anthemic rock songs ("Distortion", "Lightning Express"), and a few curveballs ("Quiet Smith", which hinges on vocal dynamic shifts, plus a couple of brief half-songs in "High Kcal" and "Ice, Tights, Mike"). At first I thought this would be another one of those Polysics albums where every song sounds like the last one, but the second half redeems this quite nicely with a string of tunes that all rely on different ideas (or gimmicks). Otherwise I guess there's not much to say about this - it's just a better version of what they were doing on the last two albums.