Monday, March 31, 2008

Official Site Refresh


As has become customary, Puffy have updated their official site (both English and Japanese) with imagery from their upcoming single. They've gone stars-and-stripesy all-American.

No time to write more - on my way to work! Will have more to post later. CONTINUED >>


Thursday, March 27, 2008

All Because of Avril Lavigne


Normally when Puffy announce a new single, it's a time of much rejoicing across the land. We all look forward to new Puffy music all the time - that's what fans do!

This time, it seems like the reaction to Puffy's latest announcement - specifically the collaboration with "faux-punk twit" Avril Lavigne - has been mixed, at least in the United States. From some of the comments on my earlier post about it to this thread at the puffyamiyumiworld.com forums (yeah ok, I'm one of the whiners there) to the mother of all slams, this nasty and NSFW blog post at Stuck in a Pagoda with Motoko Aoyama. (Nasty to Avril, that is - nice to Ami and Yumi.) I gotta admit he said pretty much what I was thinking, but I'm sure I have some Avril fans here and I didn't want to upset them.

I believe those that say this collaboration is more intended to promote sales in Japan than the United States. Avril is, if anything, more popular overseas than she is here, and her fan base is broader. Japan wasn't the birthplace of punk, so there's never been the same level of backlash against Avril among those old enough to remember what punk is really "supposed to" sound like. (Somehow Puffy actually get it right most of the time, when they try.) I also doubt that Avril's mispronunciation of the names of well-known western rock musicians (e.g. David "Bow-ee") has done as much to hurt her street cred there as it has here.

But my advice to Puffy (not that they asked) is to clam up about it a little bit here. I know you guys probably think it was a big coup scoring Avril to write you some lyrics. In Japan, maybe that's true. It's not really true here. Yeah, Avril's got a lot of really young fans - mostly teens and younger. The rest of the country just thinks she's a big hack. And promoting yourselves by linking up with Avril Lavigne makes it look like you're trying to ride her coat-tails into a fickle 'tweener audience that's just going to desert you again in another year. Have a little self-respect! You're better than that.

I'm not saying erase her name from the single and never bring it up again. I'm just saying don't make a big deal about it in your western promotion. Her fans will find her name on the single and will promote it amongst themselves. The rest of us probably would have been happier not knowing. Ignorance is bliss.

To put it bluntly, I don't think Avril Lavigne is qualified to clean Puffy's toilets, much less write music for them. She's out of her league.

You guys know where I stand. I'm curious how many others really feel this way.


Feel free to comment too. CONTINUED >>


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

All Because of You

As found on Mixi:

My guess is that'll be the single's cover. CONTINUED >>


Sunday, March 23, 2008

New single and mini-tour announced

Today PUFFY have announced their new single for Japan entitled "All Because of You", written by Butch Walker and Avril Lavigne(!). Here's the full track listing:

1. All Because of You (Butch Walker/Avril Lavigne)
2. Frontier no Pioneer (Tamio Okuda)
3. Closet Full of Love (RYUKYUDISKO Remix)

The release date is May 5, and there will be two versions, one of which comes with a DVD.

I think it's a safe bet that the title track will be sung in English. Could be the rumored bonus track for the US edition of honeycreeper as well - it would make sense. No announcement of that as yet, though, so it's pure speculation on my part. Not sure I'm all that into the idea of Avril Lavigne writing songs for them. I can't say she's at the top of my favorites list. She's a lot closer to the top of my "people who are probably the Antichrist" list.

Anyhow, there's also a small tour to go along with the single. Here's the deets for those of you in Japan (or planning to be there soon):

July 8 (Tuesday) Osaka Namba Hatch
July 9 (Wednesday) Nagoya Club Diamond Hall
July 11 (Friday) Tokyo JCB Hall

Tickets apparently go on sale tomorrow.

I doubt this is a one-off tour. I'm not sure there's ever been such a short PUFFY tour that wasn't almost immediately followed up by something larger. This is probably something like a rehearsal tour. Summer's usually a very busy touring season for PUFFY, with a lot of festivals and major tours going on nearly every year.

Two possibilities for a follow-up tour that I think are about equally likely:

a) A US tour to promote the release of honeycreeper (assuming it actually happens)

and/or

b) A larger Japanese tour to support a brand new album.

Possibly both! We'll just have to see, won't we.

Exciting times. CONTINUED >>


Friday, March 21, 2008

Friends in High Places

Some of you probably know that "Security Blanket", Ami's great solo song from SPLURGE, was a collaboration between Ami and Ken Yokoyama. Ken is one of Japan's most influential neo-punks, and he's been around since forming his old band Hi-Standard in 1991. I'll probably do a post dedicated just to him at some point in the future - I just don't know his stuff well enough yet to do his music justice.

But you've probably seen this photo of Ami wearing a Hi-Standard t-shirt for the Japanese Nice. album cover:

Yeah, don't believe the cartoon. Ami's the punk side of Puffy.

Hi-Standard broke up in 2000, but Ken kept playing on his own. His band was originally just called "Ken Band." Ami remained a fan throughout:

Yeah, that image is from the defunct Puffy AmiYumi Rocks JP web site - gone but not forgotten, guys! I know a couple of you are reading this. I'm just trying to keep your spirit alive here.

Anyway, Pizza of Death is Ken's record label, which was also Hi-Standard's record label. You can also see Ami wearing lots of Pizza of Death apparel, like the wristband here on the Tour! Puffy! Tour! 10 Final DVD:

Now, I am not the kind of guy who starts wearing stuff just because bands I like wear the same stuff. But it is pretty cool when somebody just sends you a big package out of nowhere. Some really cool and really nice people read this blog, and you just never know who some of them actually are. The other day I received a package containing the following items and more (some of it I can't show or mention):

The yellow shirt was a gift for my wife; the white ChanKen one is mine. I've been told it's quite rare so I'm not sure if I'll even open it. (I don't plan to sell it; I just like to keep collector's items as they are.) But I might, and I might wear it; I'm indecisive on such matters.

Here's Ken his own bad self wearing the same shirt, which is a parody on the famous portrait of Che Guevara:


You may have also read my lament a while back about losing the little red Cadillac from my Puffy cell phone strap, leaving only the cloth strap itself... well, this came in the same box as the shirts:

Someone out there's got a heart! Thank you!

What might be the coolest part of all this for you guys, though, is going to have to be a surprise later. It is worth waiting for. (Can you say "rare video footage"?)

I've already profusely thanked the person responsible for this. No, it's not anybody directly associated with Puffy - but that's honestly about all I know. Probably best to keep it anonymous anyway.

Just wanted to share, but you'll be seeing the benefits here (all that video) for months. CONTINUED >>


Where's Waldo?

I found this photo on a woman's blog while I was searching for something else for an upcoming post. I hope she doesn't mind me re-posting it, but I do so for a good reason, and you should look at the original page where it came from here.

Anyway, this is a photo from my first PUFFY show - and it's the only one I've found where I can clearly see myself. No, I'm not actually bald - that's just the bright light shining off my luxurious head of hair:


My wife is right next to me, though as she's quite a bit shorter than I am, she's really impossible to see.

By the way, another somewhat random post should be coming later tonight (or possibly tomorrow). CONTINUED >>


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New Walkman Poster/Print Ads

Not sure exactly how new, but new to me!

Click each one for a full size view, or visit the Sony Walkman site - but there's nothing else there that you haven't seen before.





I honestly think they look a little overdone in some of these recent ads - I prefer a more natural look. They're a little too heavily made up and "idolized" in these. They're clearly not doing their own styling. CONTINUED >>


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Yamaha Vox & Vino Video and More!


Well, here's sort of an unexpected commercial endorsement - if only because it's sort of a blast from the past for PUFFY fans.

A bunch of years ago now, PUFFY had an endorsement deal with Yamaha for their Vino line of scooters. As part of that, they included Vinos in their video for "Circuit no Musume" and also shot at least one TV commercial. Here's the original video for "Circuit no Musume", just to refresh your memory:


And I'll bet a lot of you haven't seen the original Yamaha Vino TV commercial (sorry about the quality, it's the only posting of it that I could find):


Well, they've gone back to the future and actually re-filmed a special 2008 version of the "Circuit no Musume" video, along with a new promotional video for the Vino and Vox. You can see all of this stuff at the Yamaha web site here, or just scroll down for the embedded versions.

Here's the new special 2008 version of "Circuit no Musume" (and yeah, they only did a minute of it):


Pretty cool! It's kind of wild seeing them re-do one of their early videos 10 years later, almost shot for shot. They look like they've barely aged at all, though they obviously seem more mature now. They don't have the atmosphere of kids anymore.

By the way, am I the only one that sees the similarity in the new video to the 1980's laserdisc-based motorcycle racing arcade game "Star Rider"?

Here's the Vino and Vox "with PUFFY":


They seem to be enamored with the amount of storage space. CONTINUED >>


BENT Beat Special '08


PUFFY news always seems to come in batches, and it looks like this month they've got their PR team working overtime. They've posted on their MySpace page that they'll be appearing at the B-ent Beat Special '08 show at Zepp Tokyo on 5/22-5/23, but what's maybe more interesting is that in the same posting they're alluding to meetings taking place to "discuss everything which will soon be announced." At least one more of those announcements is in the post above this one, but it sounds like that's probably not going to be the end of it.

I'll keep you guys in Japan updated on the Beat Special show - it's still up in the air which day they'll be there. CONTINUED >>


Monday, March 17, 2008

The KAGOME TV commercials

I'm back from vacation. Man, it's like a slap in the face every time I come back to New York, no matter where it is I've been. Everywhere is better than here.

Anyway, KAGOME has posted the new PUFFY TV spots on their web site, and they've also made it onto YouTube. The two spots on KAGOME's site are here and here.

And the YouTube versions:





Song sounds pretty good! Hopefully it'll be on their next album.

By the way, these commercials (in better quality) as well as a short interview and more are available at Kagome's PUFFY-themed web site. Click the image below to get there.

CONTINUED >>


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Vacation!

Yes, I know there's Puffy news happening. I'm following it, but I can't spend a lot of time talking about it right now - I'm in the middle of the Oregon desert visiting family. (Yes, there's a big desert in Oregon - bet you didn't know that!) Nothing to do with Puffy, but take a look at the crazy plane we had to fly on to get here:

More on that at some point in my other blog.

Anyway, the big news is that Puffy has revealed one of the projects they've been working on - a new commercial song for KAGOME vegetable juice (actually a cover of Tamio Okuda's "Frontier no Pioneer"). You've probably all read about this already.

I honestly doubt this is all they've been doing in the studio. Most of their albums only take them a couple of weeks to record, and they've already been in the studio multiple times for at least several weeks this year. They haven't been recording just one song this entire time. There's more to come in short order, I have little doubt.

I'll keep watching for the KAGOME TV commercial and will post it once it's up (assuming I'm near a computer at the time).

I'll be back home this weekend. CONTINUED >>


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

PUFFY Album Ranking!

I've been mulling this one over for a while. How to rank PUFFY's albums, and is it even worth doing? In a way, it doesn't feel quite right - all of their albums are worth owning, and all have at least a few essential songs. Their range in quality is (mostly) a narrow band at the upper end of the scale.

But I need something to write about and you need something to read. And believe it or not, new fans of PUFFY do stumble across my blog every once in a while. They need guidance! This list is partially for them, and partially for the rest of you to argue about amongst yourselves. Please note that this is not based on sales data. I think sales are pretty meaningless in any creative field. It's a ranking in order of quality. The order is not definitive; just one western fan's subjective opinion (though probably one of the few American fans with a complete CD collection). You're free to disagree.

I've purposely only included albums of "original" material, though what I mean is, of course, original for PUFFY. That excludes "best of" albums and remixes, but allows for cover songs and of course, any of the multitude of songs written for them by others.

By the way, the album titles are linked to PUFFY's official discography page for that album, just in case you wanted to hear song samples for anything you don't have.

Without further ado... PUFFY album ranking!

1. SPIKE
2000

I've already written about why I think this is PUFFY's best album, but long story short, SPIKE is simply the culmination of everything that ever made PUFFY great. For one thing, it's as eclectic as they've ever been, with styles ranging from punk to garage to lounge to disco. Both of the girls have amazing solo songs on the album: Ami's "Destruction Pancake" and Yumi's "This is the Song of Sweet Sweet Season When Cherry Garcia Blossoms Bloom". There's a nice balance between "old" and "new" PUFFY - this was the cusp of their changeover from Tamio Okuda as long-time producer to Andy Sturmer, and both share roughly equal time on the album. It's both the last we'll ever hear of the original strange and fun and diverse PUFFY, and the first we hear of the more modern, harder PUFFY. It's an album you can listen to beginning to end and never fail to be (pleasantly) surprised.

But it all works, both separately as individual songs and as an album. Better yet, it only gets better with age.

Best songs: Boogie Woogie #5, Destruction Pancake, Sui Sui, Swimming Pool, Green Apple, This is the Song of Sweet Sweet Season When Cherry Garcia Blossoms Bloom, Umi Eto/Into the Beach, Puffy's Rule


2. Splurge
2006

This was a tough one, and I go back and forth between Splurge, Fever Fever and Nice in this position. I'd even reversed them completely for this post originally. But Splurge just has a little more variety than either of those other two, as PUFFY embraced a new model of employing multiple "guest" producers and songwriters for their 10th anniversary album, making for a nice mix of styles only a little less diverse than SPIKE. The overall sound is harder, and darker, but still undoubtedly PUFFY - and the return of the solo songs after a two album absence was definitely welcome. PUFFY even invoke their earlier years a bit with the retro-inspired "Missing You Baby" and "Etude", which sound as if they've been lifted straight out of the early 1960's. About all that's missing from this album is a disco track - though it seemed pretty clear by this point that they'd moved on from the electronic pop songs that they'd occasionally dabbled with right up through 2003's Nice.

It's also saying something that what I consider their second-best album came a full decade after their debut, and nine albums into their career. They're still as strong as ever.

Best songs: Call Me What You Like (if you like rock n roll), Nice Buddy, Radio Tokyo, Mole-Like, Etude, Sunday in the Park, Cameland, Security Blanket, Beginnings/Hajimari no Uta


3. Fever Fever
1999

The best of the early years. Oh, some will say JET outdoes Fever Fever, and even I'll admit that Fever Fever's a little more traditional in sound, but I love its almost laid-back Beatles-esque compositions and performance. And there's still plenty of wackiness, from the short interludes like "Robot Prototype Version 0.2" to Yumi's solo ode to Osaka "Nannari to Naru Deshou", which she sings in a thick Osaka-ben. The album was produced by lifelong journeyman musician and industry stalwart Masanori Sasaji, who may be more of a natural producer than either Tamio Okuda or Andy Sturmer. They were still basically dabbling at the time. (Tamio Okuda has even said that it was seeing Tsunku's production of Morning Musume that inspired him to produce - he thought if Tsunku could do it, why not him?) Okuda did produce several songs on the album - including the classics "Yume no Tameni" and "Nichiyoubi no Musume" - and Sturmer produced PUFFY's last top ten hit in "Talalan". But the overall album was Sasaji's, and probably for that reason it's the most cohesive of their early works.

Hell, there was a time (and not too long ago!) when I called this my favorite PUFFY album.

Best songs: Stray Cats Fever, Yume no Tameni, Nannari to Naru Deshou, Kirei na Namida ga Tarinai yo, Taiyou, Puffy de Rumba, Koi no RAIN, Ai no SHEIPU, Talalan


4. Nice.
2003

While I've known about PUFFY since at least 1998, this was honestly the album that really sucked me in. They finally hooked me with Nice. So why isn't it #1? Well, think of it like a gateway drug. It's an album full of radio-friendly pop punk tunes that appeal almost aggressively and specifically to American tastes, having been fully produced and written by Andy Sturmer. It's easy on the untrained ear and probably would still be the album I recommend first for new fans of the band - especially here. I literally wore this CD out, and the songs are so catchy that I can even sing along to most of them in Japanese. (And I don't speak Japanese!) But unlike SPIKE or Fever Fever, which take time and effort to fully appreciate, Nice leaves everything on the table on the first listen.

Points off also for the lack of solo songs, the first ever PUFFY album missing them. Boo!

Best songs: Planet Tokyo/Akai Buranko, Sayonara, Invisible Tomorrow, K2G, Urei, Tokyo Nights


5. honeycreeper
2007

Ami & Yumi, if you're reading this, don't feel bad seeing this at #5. Your standard has been set unrealistically high by your own past work, and not every new album can be the best yet. This being #5 on my list of the best PUFFY albums would still put it head and shoulders above almost everything else out there. I'll still be promoting the hell out of this thing once you finally release it here.

You've probably all read my review of honeycreeper; if you haven't, feel free to do so now. I like this album a lot, and I like how much harder and darker they've become as they've gotten older. Heck, they can't keep up that kid stuff forever. And they still have fun on some of the songs here - obviously "Youkai PUFFY" being the biggest example.

But this album's a little more predictable and a little more shrill than their best albums are. Pretty much every song is hard rock, and at times the girls seem to be screaming over the guitars to get their voices heard. The solo songs - a former PUFFY staple - are also once again lamentably absent. I don't ever expect them to stay the same from album to album, but I do think Splurge was a better template for what I'm looking for from the modern, more mature PUFFY.

Best songs: Oriental Diamond, Ain't Gonna Cut It, Kimi to O-tobai/You and the Motorbike, Sayonara Summer, Youkai PUFFY, Closet Full of Love


6. JET CD
1998

I hate to put this album down at #6. I want to love it as much as I love some of their best work, and as much as some others do. I know it's got probably more PUFFY classics than any other single album (including their top-selling single ever, "Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi"). And it even follows the same template as SPIKE - it's all over the place in style.

But I think it only goes to show that eclectic albums like this are really hit-or-miss. It's difficult to make an album that has so many styles that all work well together. SPIKE got it right, maybe more by chance than anything, but I like to think there was more thought put to it than that. JET CD has always felt a little off-kilter to me - I can listen to all of the songs on it individually and I do love them, but I can't listen to the whole thing in one sitting. I just can't make it through. There's no common thread that ties everything together, as there somehow seems to be with SPIKE. JET CD feels like a random collection of hit singles thrown together on a disc.

I'll admit that I may have kind of a regional bias with this album. SPIKE's many genres all basically fall under what I'd have called "college music" ten years or so ago - and I went to college in New York. They're familiar genres to me and they all sound hip and credible in their own way - the genius was putting them all together. JET CD, though, with its rumbas, its uncomfortably close "homages" to famous western rock bands, and its pop ballads and whatnot, just doesn't have the same western street cred. But it's still got a lot of great individual songs. It's just that I'm ranking albums here.

Best songs: Jet Keisatsu/Jet Police, Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi/That's the Way It Is, Ai no Shirushi, Lemon Kid, Nehorina Hahorina, Circuit no Musume/Wild Girls on Circuit, Nagisa ni Matsuwaru Etc./Electric Beach Fever


7. amiyumi
1996

Their debut album - and despite it being in the lower third of this ranking, I'm still pretty amazed by it. Obviously, at this point it was more of a Tamio Okuda album with Ami & Yumi on vocals, but their talent was pretty undeniable. Their strength and confidence was evident right from the beginning of "Tokusuru Karada", a song that surprised the heck out of me the first time I heard it. It's hard and heavy! I'd already heard a lot of PUFFY before buying this album, and I was expecting something lighter and fluffier from their debut. But in fact, in my opinion the way they sing on this album actually sounds more mature than the way they sing on some of their later albums. They're not intentionally mickey-mousing.

A few points off for how short the album is, and it really only has a few great songs: "Tokusuru Karada", the huge hit "Asia no Junshin", and one of my favorite Yumi solo songs, the strange and almost surreal lounge track "Nagaikishitene", where she sounds nothing like she does on any other PUFFY album. That last song really hinted at some of the craziness to come.

Best songs: Asia no Junshin/True Asia, Tokusuru Karada, Nagaikishitene, Simple


8. The Hit Parade
2002

It would almost be charitable ranking this album any higher - it is a cover album, after all. Unless you're an outright tribute band, you've gotta have some major cajones to release an album of cover tunes - it's saying "we're so popular, we don't even need our own music." It's the kind of thing you can only do when you know your fans will buy anything you put out just to hear how you sing it.

The tunes on this album are going to be mostly unfamiliar to westerners - they're Japanese pop songs, some of which date to the early 1970's. Some tracks are more successful than others. "Hurricane" is a great song that's become a staple, and Yumi's version of "Hi-Teen Boogie" is fun as well. My wife laughs every time she hears them sing "Kakkoman Boogie", with its cute sounding chorus (especially the last line). But this album feels a lot more disposable than most that they've done.

Best songs: Hurricane, Hi-Teen Boogie, Kakkoman Boogie, Aishuu Deito (New York City Nights)


9. solosolo
1997

I've told you what I know of the story behind this album, but to recap: originally, this was going to be Ami's solo album before PUFFY even existed. Her half was written and recorded when she was being groomed as a solo artist by Sony Music. Time passed, and PUFFY formed and released their first album. Yumi then went in and recorded her own solo album to match Ami's, and both were released as a double album set.

It's interesting to me that this is not technically a PUFFY release. It is released under the name "Onuki Ami/Yoshimura Yumi", both an acknowledgment of the CD set's roots and the fact that no songs are sung together.

I've listened through both CD's probably half a dozen times, and there honestly aren't many songs that have grabbed me on this one. There's one big exception: Ami's "Tadaima". I don't know what it is about that song, but according to iTunes, I've played it 71 times. I've also grown to like Ami's "Honey" and Yumi's "V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N", which of course are both PUFFY classics. And I gotta say that Yumi's voice is pretty impressive on some of her tracks, even if the music is sometimes a little odd. She hits some notes (and holds them) that you never hear on any of their other albums. I think she holds back a bit from what she's really capable of so their vocals match better.

Best songs: Tadaima, V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N, Honey, Ai no AURA (ok, I like this one too)


10. 59
2004

This will probably always be kind of the "lost" PUFFY album. I wish I knew the story of its recording, because I'll bet it was a bit... tense. It's an Andy Sturmer-produced album (the last, probably not coincidentally), and it came just around the time Ami was having her baby. She didn't have a lot of time to put in on the album, and it seems like Sturmer really didn't either. He even recycles "Invisible Tomorrow" from Nice, which he'd already turned into "Friends Forever", one more time - creating easily the worst version of the song in "So Long Zero". It almost sounds unfinished production-wise, and the lyrics are... well, let's just say they're not PUFFY's best English lyrics.

59 is a short album - under 30 minutes - and is often called a "mini-album" by both PUFFY and their fans. In addition to the recycled "So Long Zero", it also contains two versions of the "Teen Titans" theme as well as "Sunrise", another anime theme song (though the latter's not bad). It does have one of my favorites, though: "Kokoro ni Hana wo", which is a song I really wish had been on any other album so it would have been heard by more people. 59 didn't get a lot of promotion and it was never released in the United States (even though their previous album Nice was), so there's one classic Sturmer PUFFY track that was unfortunately ignored. Do yourself a favor if you're in Japan and have easy access to this album: buy it for that one song. The following track, "Kazemakase Futaritabi", isn't half bad either and is probably the last we'll ever hear of PUFFY doing their kooky electro-lounge act. They just don't make light-hearted songs like this one anymore.

Best songs: Kokoro ni Hana wo, Kazemakase Futaritabi, Sunrise

That about wraps it up. I just want to say again that I think all PUFFY albums have something to offer, and I'd never have been satisfied without a full collection of at least these original albums. (I don't have a full collection including the "Best" collections and remixes - I'm missing a couple.) I also appreciate all the work that went into each one of these albums, not to mention the frenetic pace PUFFY's been maintaining in releasing basically an album per year. Makes you wonder what the hell our lazy-ass western bands are doing with all their time! Especially when few of them can manage to top the quality of any of these albums no matter how much time they take recording.

Feel free to leave a comment calling me out on my tastes, or for flat-out forgetting something... as I often do. CONTINUED >>


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hang on to your hats!

It's been about a week since my last post, but partly that's because I'm working on a "PUFFY Album Ranking" entry. As you can imagine, it's taking a while! I expect it will be fairly long when it's done - it's not just a ranking, more of a series of mini-reviews. I may even need to pare it back a bit.

Might have it up tomorrow, but no promises!

No other news to report as of now. PUFFY are still in the studio according to their latest blog entries, recording the new album. Still waiting on the US release of their last one! CONTINUED >>



 
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