If you have made a career for almost twenty years of being as vibrant, wild and unpredictable as possible, you eventually get to a point where less may be more. After seemingly doing it all, this is where the veteran new wave synthesizer-obsessed Polysics find themselves.
Polysics have had a lot of creative challenges for the past few years. Aside from the usual trying to remain fresh with an annual release for more than 15 years, change came in the form of necessity in 2010, when their principal keyboard/vocalist parted ways with the group. Instead of replacing her, Polysics doubled down on the glitch and have been performing as a trio, backed by an arsenal of sequencers firing away at blinding speeds. Automated vocoding takes over more vocal performances than ever before, and the band is trying to retain legitimacy with new and creative ways to perform their live instruments with an unflinching music robot.
Action!!! is the current lineup's third LP, and is delivered with a frivolous ignorance of all these responsibilities. In the past few releases, efforts have been put into gimmicky songs that shine the spotlight on individual members, or are overtly "LOL, Japanese band" in presentation. On Action!!!, the music speaks for itself. A lot more care has gone into the synthesizer production, with a wider array of dense and crunchy sounds. The lead single "Mega Over Drive" is a very clear effort to overclock the production to the point where it's pure cacophony. From there, individual styles are broken down and featured. The frantic Cardiacs-like "Post Post" shows off how comfortable Polysics are as a trio+machine. More importantly, it's a good experiment in mixing their personal brand of weirdness and pop-influenced fun without resorting to old habits. Once the album begins to settle into its Daft Punk-like disco-techno second act, Polysics restrains the urge to resort to "have fun with our wacky band!" sing-alongs, and instead delivers pure jams. A lot of vocoding is put to use here, retaining a level of radio-unfriendliness in the album's catchiest moments.
Front man Hayashi doesn't shy from overtly referencing his influences (even as far as to outright lift and repurpose melodies and lyrics). After reading his top albums of 2013, it's not hard to imagine a little of AA= found its way into the hardcore techo-punk song "O Mega Ne". Likewise, "New Melody" is almost impossible to hear without !!!'s "One Girl/One Boy" coming to mind. As short as the album is, it could stand to be shorter. Some of the songs at the end only suffer because 30 minutes of Polysics is all you really need for a release. Thankfully, they close with a show-stopper, "Turbo Five," which has already become one of my top Polysics songs ever. It's that perfect mix of catchy fun and adrenaline rush style they're chasing every year.
While Action!!! was made available online in the US the same day as in Japan, It's received no media push here; which is funny because it's accidentally one of their most accessible albums. It's fun when it tries to be, without sounding needy; and abrasive only in moments, as not to overcompensate. For a band with a reputation of being over the top, there is subtle restraint and focus put into this album. It's a great place to start for newcomers, a welcome return to those who have forgotten this band has existed for the last five years, and a good second look for those who have found them to be too goofy. Polysics have lost a bit of its charm over the last ten years, but no spark.