Welcome to "Nothing Not New," a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.
Title: Absolute Polysics
Release date: January 12, 2010
Label: MySpace Records
When a co-worker (who happens to be a Nippon-phile) told me I should listen to this band that is often referred to as "the Japanese Devo," I jumped on it, of course. Japanese + Devo? That had to equal something irresistibly insane, right?
Devo is one of the greatest American rock bands ever, and the Japanese have an innate ability to be visually cool, totally insane, kind of scary, and highly entertaining all at the same time. (Side note: To this day, the best rock performance I've ever seen was staged by Japanese garage rockers Teengenerate, who epitomize all that is good about Japanese rock music, in 1997 at Chicago's Empty Bottle.)
Anyway, at least on their new record, Polysics aren't as Devo-esque as I'd anticipated, but they do pull off the cartoonish, mad-scientist New Wave thing really well. But Devo simply wrote great pop and rock songs; Polysics simply go crazy with countless (and often disparate) musical ideas, played with a manic energy that is infectious at first and a little tiresome after a while. In short, Polysics needs an editor.
The sound is equal parts '80s synth (sometimes carrying some semblance of a melody; sometimes just going haywire) and huge guitar crunch, all propelled by machine-gun drumming. The vocals (both male and female lead vox) are run through any number of effects, rendering the lyrics intelligible. Generally, you can't tell whether they're singing in English or Japanese, anyway. Not that it matters a whole lot. This band is all about energy, not profundity.
Half the stuff on Absolute Polysics sounds like it should be on the soundtrack to one of those video games in which you're on a constant, kill-crazy rampage, indiscriminately blowing away everything in sight. I'm terrible at playing those video games, so I try to avoid them. But I could probably use Absolute Polysics as a soundtrack to cleaning my house and achieve the same effect.
Note: Polysics are playing tonight at the Rhythm Room. I can't imagine this band being anything but highly amusing and thrilling in a live setting, especially if they're as tight as they sound in a recorded medium. I look forward to attending the show.
Look for web editor Jonathan McNamara's review tomorrow morning on www.phxmusic.com. Here's what he had to say about the last time the band was in town.
Best song: "Cleaning" and the aptly titled "Speed Up" are the only songs here resembling anything you could sing along with. Extra credit for "Shout Aloud!," a multiple-personality, 2-minute, 55-second rock opera.
Deja Vu: Misfiring neurons or eating 14 bags of Pop Rocks.
I'd rather listen to: "Uncontrollable Urge"
Grade: On its own, each song is an A- or B+ (perfect for shuffling); as a 14-song album, it's exhausting. Overall grade: B-