Tokyo's Polysics cannot play music in calmness
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  February 9, 2010

SO, NO EMO, THEN? According to Hiro Hayashi (second from left), Polysics eschew “dark humid mental illness” in favor of “dry, rational, and exciting music.”

Japanese acts attempting to interface with Western audiences often do so from behind a veil of inscrutability. Never mind that Japanese artists emerge from an alternate J-rock history that seldom intersects with ours — getting gaijin listeners on board is a process rife with potential misunderstandings. Tokyo's enduring Polysics have bridged this gap by expressing themselves as plainly as possible: with screaming, bouncing, eyeball-popping pogo pop so spastic and ceaseless that it breaks the language barrier, as songs veer from Japanese into English into plain old gibberish. If this sounds like a headache-inducing sugar rush, it is. If it sounds like a mind-blowing rock explosion . . . well, it's that, too.

I "spoke" with lead Polysic Hiro Hayashi through e-mail via his translator, as the band cruised through the Southwest (on a US tour that hits the Middle East on Valentine's Day). And if occasionally the Turing Test that spit out answers to my questions lost something in the translation, that may offer some clues as to how Polysics perceive their own relentless enthusiasm. When I ask how they stay upbeat through countless tours and mishaps (as they put it, "There is no place for gloom at a Polysics concert"), Hiro explains the Polysics process thus: "We cannot play music in calmness. Also, we don't like to have dark humid mental illness in our songs. We prefer making dry, rational, and exciting music."

You could attempt to parse that humid/dry dichotomy, or you could give a quick listen to the Polysics discography — in which case you'd discover that the crisp clean lines of their guitar/synth attack coupled with the clipped pace of their breakneck herk-and-jerk truly is a more arid approach to synth-driven electronic music than the drowned-in-reverb æsthetic of their wetter contemporaries. Although Polysics foreground the synths — in both sound and visual panache (even the band's name is a take-off of Hiro's very first Korg Polysix) — they use them to produce not luxuriant washes of sound but rather stuttering glitch fugues that often conjure a Donkey Kong console gone haywire. Yet all the sonic insanity is tethered by a martially taut rhythm section and a strict adherence to get-in-get-out song lengths. The result is not unlike sticking your finger into an electric socket: initially jolting, and over before you really know what happened.

"We love techno and rock, avant-garde, dark, pop, crazy, and happy things," Hiro tells me — it's clear the Polysics have their template down pat. Their newest long-player, Absolute Polysics (Myspace Records), distills their lengthy international discography. From the Gyruss-on-acid funhouse swirl of opener "P!" and "Fire Bison" to the Human Leaguey swoon-punk of "Cleaning" and "Eye Contact," Polysics have perfected a balance of J-rock, digital insanity, and sweet-toothed pop-punk melodicism.

"Sometimes, compared to other bands, we do feel a lot that we are too pop — even in Japan!" With this, Hiro puts their sugary pop jones in the context of the punk tumult the band usually find themselves in. "But to us, rock is rock when you do something different from others."

POLYSICS + WITH ENGINES | Middle East upstairs, 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge | February 14 at 9 pm | $15 | 617.864.EAST or www.mideastclub.com

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