Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Album Review: honeycreeper

In many ways Spurge was expected to be a great album, Ami and Yumi pulled out the stops and delivered an experience that encompassed their first decade as a duo. But how does honeycreeper serve as the bookend for another decade of Puffy? As it turns out... remarkably well.

Honeycreeper is a multiple composer and producer album which is not uncommon with Puffy particularly at this stage of their careers. Despite having so many moving parts in production honeycreeper is an integrated listening experience the tracks flow well from one to another. To me it is an album that plays best from start to finish, sans randomization in one sitting. The track layout is superlative.

Sometimes an album can be defined by what is missing, which is not always a bad thing. It is noticeable that Andy Sturmer is nowhere to be found on honeycreeper. I am not sure how I feel about this and I will leave it at that. Also missing are solo tracks by Ami and Yumi. Which I think is okay. Ami and Yumi are talented enough on their own, but the magic that is Puffy only occurs when they sing together and sometimes their solo tracks do not work well for me.

Here is the track list for honeycreeper.

1. Oriental Diamond (Lyrics and Music: Yosui Inoue/Tamio Okuda)
2. Ain’t Gonna Cut It (Lyrics and Music: Butch Walker/Robert Schwartzman)
3. Kimi to O-tobai (Lyrics and Music: Chiba Yusuke)
4. Kuchibiru Motion (Lyrics and Music: Yoshii Kazuya)
5. Hayai Kurima (Lyrics and Music: Mashima Masatoshi)
6. Sayonara Summer (Lyrics and Music: Yamanaka Sawao)
7. boom boom beat (Lyrics: PUFFY Music: Anders Hellgren & David Myhr)
8. Youkai Puffy (Lyrics: Kudou Kankurou Music: Taku Tomizawa)
9. Closet Full Of Love (Lyrics and Music: Butch Walker/Kara DioGuardi)
10. Hasanjiyauze (Lyrics and Music : Mashima Masatoshi)
11. complaint (Lyrics: PUFFY Music: Yamanaka Sawao)
12. Ohedo Nagareboshi IV (Lyrics: Pierre Taki Music: Anders Hellgren & David Myhr)
13. Island (Lyrics and Music: Chiba Yusuke)

The lead in track for honeycreeper is best summed up by Ami*, "Oriental Diamond makes you feel like 'Here Puffy comes!' “ Even before looking at the credits it screams Tamio Okuda. It is also is the only track he participated on for honeycreeper. Which if Tamio can only have one song on a Puffy album, this is a really great one to have. It is a fantastic lead in track. Oriental Diamond has mostly a rock focus but like many of Tamio’s Puffy contributions it is hard to pin down one specific influence which exemplifies why Tamio Okuda is the best Puffy collaborator.

The arrangements and production for Oriental Diamond are top notch and Ami and Yumi both deliver stunning vocals via harmony and in-and-out singing. To me this is the spiritual snap back to Asia no Junshin and no surprise that penultimate Puffy song was by Tamio Okuda as well. What might might surprise you, this is my second favorite song on honeycreeper.

Ain’t Gonna Cut It is Butch Walker’s marriage of 60’s girl pop and rock which delivers a fun yet unhappy song. I think some of the metaphors for failed love might be a bit off, but it is a song I enjoy. It is well arranged but maybe just a hint of being over produced particularly on the instruments. Ami and Yumi both sound very natural and deliver a good vocal flow to the track.


Kimi to O-tobai to me has a late 70’s rock feel in both engineering and delivery. Think more like The Knack or early Cheap Trick for sound design , there is an open feeling to the sound. The song itself I think is a touch padded in but overall I like it in regards to Ami and Yumi’s vocal delivery and musical flow.

Where other tracks by Puffy might be purely cute, purely honest or purely fun… Kuchibiru Motion is pure sex. The corresponding video from the single I enjoy because it reflects the sexy fun of the track and usually Ami and Yumi don’t particularly eschew to sexy in a such a straightforward manner. That makes for a nice change up stylistically. Kuchibiru Motion may not be the most intricate song, but the lyrics are great and the song is fast, fast, fast!

Hayai Kurima feels a slightly like a space filler, but it is not a bad song. I like the fact that Puffy’s vocals are raw and under produced. This makes sense given it is by Mashima Masatoshi from The Blue Hearts which is a band whose style to me is not overly engineered. Their impact upon Puffy is also noteworthy. Hayai Kurima's placement on honeycreeper is a good bridge between Kuchibiru Motion and Sayonara Summer but it is listenable on its own.

A poppy ballad, Sayonara Summer is well placed. Ami and Yumi sing very well on the track and the sound comes off as tightly produced. It is not a remarkable song to me and is not one I dive into my pool of music for, but it is nice sounding and that is enough. not every track can or will be a homerun.

Boom boom beat is another fast rocker, which you would think would be a song I would immediately glom onto… but there is something missing. The back story is the Merrymakers churned this out very quick and it feels this it did not expand when it went to production. It is a song I like, but I think it could have been a song I love had it been filled out. Again boom boom beat plays against the happy Puffy image, which is something I do like about this track.

If I had to describe Youkai Puffy I would dub it a barn burning rocker meets Skooby Doo meets a 50’s beach monster movie… on meth. The track starts off with a radio skit which even given my lack of meaning ful Japanese linguistics skills, is fairly straight forward. After reading a translation, it is hilarious… not only as a bit but as a corollary to Puffy’s good girl pop image.

The back half of the Youkai Puffy track is the song itself . While it is self referencing which under other circumstances I intensely dislike. For Youkai Puffy this works as everything is a reference to ghost Puffy in the skit. While the skit might be a touch slow to play out, once the song starts… hang on! The flow of Yokai Puffy is really remarkable. It feels all over the place between screeching synthesizers, screaming vocals and up and down tempos… yet it all ties together like Ami and Yumi’s vocal cords in their delivery. This is my favorite song on honeycreeper, Kankurou and Tomizawa craft a Puffy song that is stunningly different yet maintains the qualities of a Puffy song all the same.

Somewhat buried on honeycreeper is Closet Full of Love and of the two Butch Walker contributions this is the one I like more. It is also the one that became a single, so maybe there is something to that line of thought. I think the metaphor’s here while maybe reflect a less ambitious effort, are also better.
Closet Full of Love is an interesting combination of hopeful and personal fears in regards to love, when married with a straightforward rock/pop template is a song that delivers the goods.

The second contribution by Blue Hearts’ Mashima Masatoshi, Hasanjiyauze is very different sounding and mimics an earlier Puffy sound. It is a very drum and synthesizer heavy track, bass and guitar are mostly far in the background. End result is a fun track that would not have been out of place ten years ago yet still sounds fresh.

Complaint, like Sayonara Summer is by Yamanaka Sawao. It is less polished but it is also a faster paced rock track and continues in a theme of the second contribution by a composer on honeycreeper being the better song. Ami and Yumi are in harmonic lockstep and sound great. I would also suggest that complaint has a throwback Puffy sound and would not have been out of place ten years ago. It is not a complex arrangement, and instruments are guitar heavy and I cannot pick up a trace of synthesizer on the track.

Ohedo Nagareboshi IV is a silly song crafted by The Merrymakers for Puffy. Like Oriental Diamond this is a very Puffy song and also is the second song by a composer which I like more. The sound in Ohedo Nagareboshi IV is a mix of girl Japanese pop with a 60’s girl ground undertone, particularly in the chorus. The women in my life love this song and dance along be they six or thirty six. I do like it, but via osmosis... I had no choice.

The last track of honeycreeper is Island which is more than a bit inspired by Celtic folk music. Like Youkai Puffy it is a more experimental track and it honestly leaves me flat. That is not to say it is not well executed, it is not my cup of tea.

Honeycreeper wound up being a surprise for me. Had it been a let down I would not have been surprised as Splurge was a great album. Ami and Yumi in many ways deliver an effort I liked more than Splurge, but this could never have been released as a tenth anniversary album either. Splurge I thought best represented Puffy’s collective sound for their first decade. Honeycreeper is a rocking kickoff to their next decade and me represents a focus that I want to hear more of.

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

* h/t to puffyamiyumiworld

13 comments:

  1. A quick note, I had this sequence for back tracking album reviews... which I proceeded to ignore as honeycreeper was stuck in my brain and low bearing fruit to write about.

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  2. Would it be possible to get a translation on the part in the middle?

    vince

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  3. I've read a couple of attempts to give a general idea of the skit material, but would also love to see a full translation. It sounds funny enough, but unfortunately there's a big difference between getting a joke and appreciating one that's been explained to you.

    Honeycreeper is just a little too weird in some ways. I dearly love Puffy's sense of humor, but "Youkai PuffY" was probably the biggest hurdle to my getting into the album initially. The next biggest would have been the "Kuchibiru Motion" PV, I suppose. I'm not sure if either Ami or Yumi has ever had anything to say about this, but I can't absorb it as anything other than Puffy mercilessly lampooning its squeaky clean image.

    Didn't Shonen Knife end one of their post-Michie albums with a Celtic-sounding song?

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  4. @Vince: There are translations out there or synopses. See below.

    @bonsaipark I have seen translations on either puffyamiyumiworld or peace pop puffy... they are more than adequate.

    @bonsaipark I know the song from Shonen Knif eyou are thinking but I thought that was while Michie was still on board (and let me tell you I dearly miss her from the band...). Let me scour their albums.

    @bonsaipark They have lampooned on their image for a long time, sometimes subtly sometimes not. I mean the Blue Hearts cover from the Spike concert alone... but also them going well out of their way to not dress sexy does this too. Though this may have less to do with being funny and more to do with stopping pervy Japanese fans back when they were younger.

    It sounds like I probably took to honeycreeper quicker... I think it was a sound they built upon from Splurge and marked a progression or path that I thought was tenable (be it production and honing their singing). My hope was Bring it! would be along that line, but alas it was something of a reversion and not a completely successful one. But the charm of Puffy is they are willing to do things differently from album to album so who knows what they next one will be... but they seem happy with the production thus far.

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  5. My apologies, Wes. The SK song I was thinking of was "Mayonaise Addiction", but it doesn't (quite) end the album it's on... and it's also not as Celtic as I remembered. The electric sitar gives it a distinctly Indian sound, but there is a hint of Celtic pipes and drones as well. That was the one, though.

    So, was the "Kuchibiru Motion" video an attempt to do something for their pervy fans, do you think? I recall reading a message awhile back that suggested this was essentially a fetish video, but by including so many different fetish objects (high heels, fruit, commodes...) it could only be taken as a parody.

    Don't get me wrong. I love Honeycreeper. It just took me a little longer to get into it than it did Splurge, and there are a few more songs that I just think are OK than usual. But as an album, overall, it works well enough for me. "Oriental Diamond", with its "Revolution" style opening, is classic Puffy (as is the video), "Kimi to O-tobai" is very powerful, I think "Sayonara Summer" is lovely, and "Ohedo Nagareboshi IV" is insanely catchy. (Regarding the last song, I don't hear girl groups here as much as some of the poppy, frothy hits of, say, The Turtles or The Association. It's hard to be sure what it's reminding me of, actually, but very definitely Sixties.)

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  6. You and Jeff mention that honeycreeper seems like a natural progression from splurge. But I don't get that at all. honeycreeper to me has always seemed like the girls indulging in a musical style they love but rarely got to perform as PUFFY. Bring It! I think seems both a progression and a retread from Splurge. It's a progression stylistically, but conversely it sounds like they're TRYING to be young again.

    Overall though, I think honeycreeper is a solid album. It's certainly one of their most consistent in tone (even between transitions such as from Youkai Puffy - Closet Full of Love). And the songwriting here is top quality if inconsistent. I could really do without Hayai Kuruma, Hasan Jauze (its cool intro doesn't salvage the rest - and it's a cover) and Oedo Nagareboshi IV (it just goes too long - cut the last 2 or 3 choruses!). But the rest I'm fine with.

    It's still one of those albums I have to be in the mood to listen to, though. I can pop out Fever*Fever or JetCD anytime, but honeycreeper comes around only once in a while. Part of that might be the production, which is at times too loud. Sayonara Summer, for example, if scaled back could have been much sweeter sounding. Instead, it seems like a single layer of loudness. It doesn't ruin the song, though.

    I still wonder where the girls are going to go from here, though. I'm hoping for a 2010 album, but that seems kind of iffy considering how long it took to churn out Bring It!

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  7. Stewart, according to the Puffy blog, Ami and Yumi seem to be pretty busy in the recording studio now so I think there's some hope for a new album soon. Of course they're not giving many details but it sounds like the girls are writing much of the new material.

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  8. That does make me a bit more optimistic. Don't get the wrong idea, though. I don't at all want the new album to be a rush job; they should certainly take their time.

    I just hope they figure out where to go from here. And I mean that in... a bunch of different ways.

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  9. @bonsai: SK did have a Celtic sort of song, but that was not the one I was thinking of. I think it was something like Luck of the Irish. But I am not motivated to do stuff like research.:)

    @Bonsai I would doubt they would go out of their way to please pervy fans given what they did early on to look unsexy (plaid jumpsuits...) but I would tend to think this was more along the lines of parody. Though the type of parody may be debatable.

    @bonsai An interesting take on what you liked from honeycreeper.

    @stewart We say that because it is true. I think the good rocking part of Splurge were brought forward in honeycreeper. Frankly I would have been happy with a third album along these lines. It is easier to be rocking at 30 something than cute. Which is the problem with Bring it! as I agree it is an attempt at a throw back sound, but your time frame is off. I would say it is more like Puffy is trying to emulate their earlier albums.

    @stewart Bonsai covered it, but they are recording now. So that suggests that a 2010 album is likely (double so as it is their 15th anniversary). My only word of caution is they were excited about Bring it! and that is an album I get get less excited about every time I listen to it. It is not bad and has some good spots but it is a very uneven effort.

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  10. @Wes: Shonen Knife did cover John Lennon's "The Luck of the Irish" (and the Beatles' "Rain") on "712."

    One thing I find amusing about Puffy celebrating their 15th anniversary this year is that they celebrated their 10th anniversary four years ago ("Mogura-like," "Splurge" and the 10th anniversary tour all happened in 2006).

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  11. @anthony Maybe they are planning ahead? I dunno... it is an excellent point.

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  12. "Honeycreeper" was the first PUFFY album I heard (yes, I know I was late to the show), and it's still my favorite. I think it's the most cohesive of all their albums, which is an amazing feat, considering all the different writers, producers, and musicians. But it does the thing that PUFFY does better than any other act in the world - combine incredibly catchy, unabashed pop songs, with a rock sensibility that draws equally from The Beatles and the Buzzcocks. When I got the CD from my local library, and put on "Oriental Diamond", I was gobsmacked. It was as if my perfect pop group had come to life. It blended the tunefulness of pop music with the sensibilities of indie rock. A guitar riff swiped from the Beatles’ “Revolution”, an insistently catchy keyboard riff, and two female singers singing in close harmony. It was fun, it rocked, and I’d never heard anything quite like it. There was a palpable joy that permeated the song that’s missing from so much Western rock.

    It's not unfair to say that the first 30 seconds of that song made me a PUFFY fan for life. But there's so much more here. "Kuchibiru Motion" has those crunchy guitar riffs, and the lyrics, if the translation I read is right, are the sexiest in the band's catalogue. The live video of this song from 2007 (not the PV) remains my favorite tool to introduce people to PUFFY. "Sayonara Summer" is a pretty, fun, pop song, and I think "Boom Boom Beat" works perfectly, and is given a kick by PUFFY's lyrics, which play against their sweet image. I also love "Island", but then I was born in England of Irish heritage, so the song probably means more to me than most. And in the opinion of this true Celt, it sounds "right".

    Since hearing "Honeycreeper", I've gone back and bought all of PUFFY's albums, and all of them have things of value, and "Spike" and "Splurge" are positively brilliant. But as an overall album, and as an album that sounds especially close to Ami's and Yumi's hearts, it think it's their best.

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  13. @robert A great write up! Puffy I think fills a hole in western pop/rock and you hit the nail on the head with the joylessness found in the west. In major acts at least. There are bands that do have a passion Electric Six would fall into that, albeit with dark undertones. Matthew Sweet could have filled that hole, but he kinda got lost when alt rock crashed and burned.

    Splurge is on my short list to review soon. I am not sure if I can call it proto-honetcreeperr or call honeycreeper a follow up. They are similar and different all at once. Spike, I do not exactly know what to do with that for a review. It is not an album I really glommed on to, which suggests I try again.

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