Two One-Minute Reviews

William Gillespie

Happy Birthday.Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday. SubPop.

The lyrics, the liner notes, the silly picture of the band mugging for the camera, and the peculiar-cool cover art of broken quarter notes don't suggest "masterpiece." But rock masterpieces fail harder. In fact, plenty of great albums were recorded without thinking too hard about it: Ziggy Stardust, Please Please Me, I Often Dream of Trains. Happy Birthday’s eponymous debut is a great, fun, easy album of inscrutable furry garage pop with sweet, androgynous vocals. I like it just the way it is, and am not tempted to research the background of the band and spoil the mystique through reductive over-analysis of the Gestalt, knowwhatI'msaying? Wikipedia it yourself, geek. Think of an album to play loud in your car on the first day of spring, when you would open the sunroof or fold the top down, but can't because you rock a '93 Camry with 200,000 miles and rust spots. This album is all yummy like gourmet french fries: pommes frites, if you will. Happy Birthday is, in a word, good. At 33.3 minutes, this album suggests that you want it on vinyl, which SubPop, bless their indy/corporate soul, can provide.

Polysics.POLYSICS. Absolute POLYSICS. Ki/ooon Records.

Turn down the music, I think my cellphone is ringing. Wait, that is the music. A great composer once said, “Those who get what they want, get what they deserve.” I’ve been wanting more early Devo. Suddenly I have found this impossible desire fulfilled in Japan’s POLYSICS, and I don't know where to listen to it. In the car? I'd get in a wreck. Put it on during a party? I don't think that would go over too well with the Tom-Waits-loving kids of my generation. I don’t even know how the band's name is pronounced. But I knew, the moment I saw the cover with the band posing like mannequins in matching safety orange jumpsuits, that I was on to something.

This music is a plastic power sander to the ear canal. Relentlessly driven, synthetic, upset but disciplined, it is organized on a musical level but on a lyrical or emotional level completely inaccessible. The singer doesn’t exactly sing, and if it’s in English it doesn’t matter—his conniptions prevent any understand of the music or its genre. They straddle lines between old school synth pop and old school hardcore punk... categories are useless in the presence or original music, but it pleases me to think that certain decades-old strains of energetic rock strain on in the music of POLYSICS. One can even pick out musical references to Devo or XTC’s unpopular and bracingly jittery debut White Noise (I know I’m not making this up because the song title is “XCT”). This is my second favorite release from the past year, and the one I am the most afraid to listen to. Every situation is inappropriate for this music! But I like a challenge! I like music that tells me I am mostly complacent, lazy, and smooth around the edges.


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