Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Album Review: amiyumi


Good things can come in small packages… amiyumi is a great introduction to Ami and Yumi but it is either a long EP or a short album. I think an argument could be made for either. I consider it an album and I wish that I could have listened to in upon its release in 1996 rather than a number of years removed. Ami and Yumi’s voices are fresh and while they certainly have become better singers, there is something special that only happens once in a career, the beginning.

Technically this is Ami’s second album, her half of solosolo was (I believe) recorded before amiyumi… but combining with Yumi for Puffy marks the start of something special. Tamio Okuda produced amiyumi and this is another harbinger of things to come, the special musical relationship between him, Ami and Yumi. This is often stated by Puffy fans, but it is not hyperbole either. Without him, arguably Puffy would have become (...if anything at all) a footnote in j-pop.

In hindsight, amiyumi is a middle of the pack album in Puffy's catalog. That is no mean feat, many artists' first efforts are something they might be embarrassed by or prefer remain buried. Amiyumi is a good album and everything that is great about Puffy starts here and True Asia and Profitable Body remain high points for Puffy to this day.

For reference here is the track list for amiyumi, within the context of the review I will use the English title translations. I do not have any issue with using Japanese song titles and my reviews will shift back and forth. Part of my goal is to talk about Ami and Yumi and I think translated song titles might help reach a wider group of people.

1. Tokusuru Karada / Profitable Body (Lyrics & Music: Tamio Okuda)
2. Usagi Channel / Rabbit Channel (Lyrics: Ami Onuki & Tamio Okuda, Music: Tamio Okuda)
3. Sakura Saku / Cherry Blossom Blooms (Lyrics & Music: Tamio Okuda)
4. Simple (Lyrics: Puffy
and Shinichi Yakuma & Music: Shinichi Yakuma)
5. Nagaiki Shite ne / I Want You to Live a Long Time (Lyrics: Yumi Yoshimura & Tamio Okuda, Music: Tamio Ok
uda)
6. Asia no Junshin /True Asia (Lyrics: Yosui Inoue, Music: Tamio Okuda)
7. Puffy no Hey! Mountain (Lyrics: Tamio Okuda & Puffy, Music: Tamio Okuda)

amiyumi opens with Profitable Body and it is a track in some ways I appreciate slightly more than True Asia. That may sound like heresy given True Asia is Puffy's signature song. I enjoy the guitar work and the recursive manner in which it is played, which is a consistent theme in the Puffy songs I like. The harmonizing that Ami and Yumi display in Profitable Body is wider ranging and showcases the "Puffy sound" better than any other track on amiyumi and puts the Puffy stamp on the album from the start.

Rabbit Channel, is the first of two solo tracks, Yumi’s follows later in the album and both have a throwback pop / lounge sound. It is a slower paced song and when translating lyrics it is also surprisingly silly. Of the two solo tracks Rabbit Channel is the better, if only because the engineering and instruments are better implemented. It feels like Okuda wanted to give Ami and Yumi similar songs as to not differentiate either too much and thus both sound similar in regards to style and pacing. Where Ami’s Rabbit Channel is a middling effort, the solo by Yumi misses the mark.

I Want You to Live a Long Time is a solo track by Yumi and is not a song a care for. I understand the throwback sound that she and Okuda were trying to replicate but it sounds awkward. The instruments do emulate a vague throwback which was interesting in theory, in practice the music is bland and the production over engineered to the point of sterility.

True Asia is inarguably the best song on amiyumi and arguably one of their best songs spanning 13 years of work to date. Guitars, drums, keyboards and vocals all tightly integrated in one declarative package wrapped with stellar sound engineering. I would say one subtle delight in True Asia is that drums, bass and keyboards are lead instruments and yet they are not overpowering. They are given a lot of range to roam but still give a solid foundation for Puffy’s singing. Every time I listen to True Asia I am mesmerized by it on so many levels.

Three tracks that fall just behind True Asia and Profitable Body are Puffy no Hey! Mountain Simple and Cherry Blossoms Bloom. The former is a slower paced interlaced with soul and funk, it is pleasant but not a distinctive track. Simple is a rocking alternative sounding track that is my third favorite track on amiyumi. It has nice energy and showcases a wide vocal range from Ami and Yumi.
Cherry Blossoms Bloom is a nice song with with a vague western vibe to it. I find it listenable but it is not a track I gravitate towards either.

Amiyumi is an album that is a harbinger for things to come. Unlike many early efforts by a band, amiyumi is a good album in its own right. Ami and Yumi deliver a sound that can only be experienced and I wish I would have started with this album and been able to experience two of my favorite albums that follow closely on the heels of amiyumi. Talking about those are a subject for later review.

Final Grades
Music: A
Production: B+
Performance: B

15 comments:

  1. Wes, I think you discovered Puffy at about the same time as I did, which means we came in at about the mid-point (as of now). I wonder if you'd be willing to speculate on how your reaction to the debut might have been different if this CD had been the first thing you'd heard?

    When I'm asked where to begin sampling an artist's recordings, I usually recommend starting with the first album and going chronologically from there (hoping that this at least slightly reproduces the experience of following the band in 'real time'). However, I rarely do this myself. With Puffy, I heard most of the other albums before getting around to the debut, so I was forced to interpret it in terms of their later work. As such, it was disappointing. When I did listen to it, I tended to approach Amiyumi from the standpoint of looking for the seeds of greatness I heard in Jet, Fever*Fever, et cetera. An intellectual exercise in music appreciation or something.

    Then one day I happened to see a clip from the tenth anniversary tour on YouTube. It was "Tokusuru Karada". I loved the performance but couldn't place exactly where I'd heard the song before. The next time I listened to Amiyumi I was shocked that I'd overlooked such a good song. After that the rest of the album kind of fell into place.

    I'm tired and I think I'm rambling... Still wonder, though, what it would have been like to hear this first, at the very start of Puffymania.

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  2. bonsaipark, I would say that everything that is special about Puffy is in amiyumi. It is a nice album and charming... its ambitions are different than Jet or Fever*Fever.

    I think I listened to it a bit sooner in my exploration of Puffy. Had I gotten first blush with this amiyumi I think it would have gotten my attention, but given my mixed feelings about solosolo I am sort of glad I went about it the way I did.

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  3. Made a slight edit to the review, I totally forgot about a song... says less about Cherry Blossoms Bloom than it does about my brain.

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  4. I just hate that it sells for like 40 BUCKS!!!! That's a little too pricey for me.


    vince

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  5. Wes: a small correction -- "Simple" wasn't written by Tamio Okuda. The lyrics are by Puffy and Shinichi Yakuma (from SPARKS GO GO), and Yakuma also composed the track (I think on one of the Jet Tour DVDs there's a snippet of him playing the song with Puffy in concert).

    Vince: if you have an account with Amazon Japan, there are some resellers there selling "amiyumi" for as low as 1 yen + shipping (generally 800 yen), and who will also ship overseas.

    As for the album itself, I really like it. I can take or leave Yumi's solo number and -- believe it or not -- "Tokusuru Karada," but otherwise can listen to any other song over and over. For some reason, "Tokusuru Karada" has never resonated with me. I don't dislike it or anything, but I never got why it was such a big number for Puffy.

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  6. Vince: I was also going to suggest Amazon Japan's resellers. One dealer actually lists a NEW copy for 200 yen, plus shipping. However, it may take a little persistence. As Anthony says, there are some dealers who will ship overseas, but many won't, so you just have to keep trying. Also, the language barrier is more of a challenge when dealing with the resellers. Again, persistence will probably pay off. I've had some wonderful experiences with these folks.

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  7. Anonymous, I bought most of their back catalog on eBay... for about 10-15 a CD. That is bearable. Now that I buy new and the going rate seems to be about 30... Seems like a lot, but I would rather pay that much for something I will probably like. But me and expensive imports go way back give

    Anthony, thanks for the correction. I got too happy with cut and pasting. Fixed. Interesting take on the album and always interesting to hear what songs I like that do not resonate with others.

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  8. Thanks for the suggestions... Actually, my mom & my aunt have been thinking of going to Japan, so at least I'll be able to get a copy of "Bring It!" & the new POLYSICS.......


    vince

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  9. anonymous, you should have not problem finding CD's. Though word of warning they are triple what we pay here (or so). I have a blog about that percolating, be prepared to pay more than you would for a US cd.

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  10. Well, suffice to say.... I've recently obtained all non-USA releases (through nefarious methods, on the internet). OMG! RMX TURBO is blowin' my MIND!!


    vince

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  11. Oh, all except "Bring It!"

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  12. Well done, Vince. That'll keep you busy for a while!

    Don't forget the singles, though. Some of my favorite Puffy songs only appear on those: Puffy na Ohirune, Puffy no Tsuaamen, Peace (!!!), Lucy wa Moon Face, Umi no Sei, Sekai no Hajikko, Kimi ga Suki, Neji Potion, and of course Dareka Ga.

    I don't mean to rain on your parade. If you're like me, though, you always have to have something in mind for "what's next?"

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  13. "(p)RMX TURBO is blowin' my MIND!!"

    I thought that was a mixed effort, which is about the best I can label any remix album... not really my cup of tea.

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  14. I have to admit that I don't really 'get' remixes (or remix albums). Are you supposed to consider them essentially a tribute album?

    The only remixes I seem to enjoy at all are those that keep the vocal pretty much intact, but change the arrangement, the chord structure, and so on. That will usually earn some points for cleverness at least, and are often quite surprising. One of my favorites -- and maybe the only remix I actually enjoy more than the original -- is Yasuharu Konishi's fun take on "Your Love Is A Drug" (from PRMX Turbo). He manages to transform the song from a three-chord "Louie Louie" rocker to one that seems to borrow from most of the songs on the Magical Mystery Tour album.

    Anyone else have a favorite?

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  15. I guess that means I have to do reviews of the PRMX albums... I was hoping to avoid that! But it does give me a chance to bag on Malcom McClaren so there is a flip side!

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