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 Okuda)
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.