Thursday, May 29, 2008

I'm obssessed with this photo.

I confess I lifted this off the Sumairu Puffy site. But I think whoever posted it there was writing about something unrelated.

I know I've seen this before, but I can't place when or where. It was obviously on a Hit & Run site at one point, probably Puffy's official site. Anybody know what's going on in this photo? Refresh my memory.

I wish we'd see more of Puffy playing instruments these days, and I'm digging their back-to-basics style here too. It must have been a few years ago, judging by the hair and clothing.

PUFFY Interview on iNNO.

There's a lengthy interview with PUFFY up on Microsoft's iNNO. site in Japan. It's all in Japanese, of course, so if you're an English speaker you'll want to get out your thinking cap so you can translate Google's translation.

There's some good stuff on pages 1 and 2, but unfortunately to view page 3 and 4 you must be a member of "Club Microsoft". Ok, who wants to be the guinea pig?

It appears to have been done on the same day as Excite's close-up, for reasons which I think are obvious.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

All Because of You Live

I've been sitting on a couple of these videos for a few days and other people went and posted 'em first. I may as well still link to them here.

You've seen the promotional video, now check out PUFFY singing "All Because of You" live (more or less).

Music Fair:

Hey! Hey! Hey!:

Music Japan (with a bit of interview at the top):

Aspect ratio's off on that last one. Annoying.

I'm trying not to be too negative about it but I think the weakness of the song really shows when it's played live. It just sounds awkward. I think the measure of any band is really how they sound live, and that's true of songs as well. PUFFY is a great live band, but this is not a great live song.

I'm looking for something that I can feel excited about posting again...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

All Because of You Single Review

The CD
I tried to give "All Because of You" a chance. I really did. I tried not to comment on it (much) after posting a link to the video, and I've now listened to it repeatedly on CD. But it just sounds wrong, in a way that's hard to put my finger on, or maybe in several small ways that add up to a song that actually feels kind of icky. Maybe writing it out stream-of-consciousness style will help pinpoint the issues.

Track listing:
1. All Because of You (words & music: Butch Walker/Avril Lavigne)
2. Frontier no Pioneer (words & music: Tamio Okuda)
3. Closet Full of Love (Ryukyudisko mix)

There's been a lot of talk about what PUFFY are trying to accomplish with a track written by Avril Lavigne. Well, first, judging by the similarity between this track and previous Butch Walker tracks, I think it's obvious that Walker actually did most of the work - as he probably does with his songs for Avril herself. The lyrics, though, are clearly written from a teenage girl's point of view, so that was probably Avril's contribution. (She's older than that, but doesn't act or write like it very often.) It's being marketed as a track written by Avril Lavigne, obviously because of her popularity - and she's actually more popular in Japan than she is here.

I think that it's pretty likely that this track is intended to boost sales in Japan, and not necessarily the United States. And it does seem to be succeeding in getting them more TV and radio attention than they have been with their recent singles. So more power to them on that front, I guess. But I feel like they sold a bit of their souls to get there.

It's a catchy tune, I'll give it that... in a way that a lot of advertising jingles are. I can see this being sung in a shampoo commercial, or maybe laundry detergent, as a smiling housewife (or househusband!) waggles her finger at a stain on a shirt and sings "it's all because of you!" before tossing it in the washing machine and dumping a cup full of Tide onto it. It's a song that sounds overly calculated, completely inorganic, created by computer and designed to be a hit. A lot of PUFFY's songs have been hits - maybe not so much lately - but they've never sounded like they were trying so hard at it. They just were. PUFFY have always been a pop band, but they've never been this kind of pop band. I mean, there's the Foo Fighters and then there's Britney Spears, you know? (Ok, that's a little extreme on both ends, but you get the point.)

Part of it is the production, which is probably Butch Walker's first big miss with PUFFY, and in such a way that it's actually forced me to re-evaluate his earlier work with the group. The biggest problem from a technical standpoint is the vocals, which are heavily manipulated in that "Believe" by Cher sort of way - probably not the song that PUFFY were hoping to be compared to. ProTools is becoming the sonic equivalent of Photoshop, and it can be used for good or evil. In this case, I think the processing shows a lack of confidence in the girls' vocals, which is a sin considering that singing is what they're getting paid to do and what their fans want to hear.

I also don't hear Yumi at all on the track - this may as well be Ami solo (if Yumi's there, she's pretty far down in the mix). No surprise, really, as it's consistent with their other English songs, but I'm not convinced Ami didn't get some "extra help" on the track too. Her pronunciation of certain words ("you", for example) is very sort of American emo singer-sounding, and she doesn't pronounce them that way when singing the song live. I still think it's possible there is a backing track beneath her vocals, and I do hear another voice during the chorus that doesn't sound like either of them. Is it Avril? The credits in the liner notes are pretty basic, so we'll probably never know.

A few people have said the song just doesn't sound very much like PUFFY, and while I'd agree with that, I don't think that's necessarily the problem. PUFFY have changed a lot over the years and still, almost everything they've done has been great. It's not the fact that this song is different that bothers me; it's that it's almost cynical. It's one of those songs that seems to have been written by formula, produced in such a way that sucks all the humanity out, with trite lyrics about a teen romance that don't really seem appropriate for thirty-something women to be singing, and where the artists themselves are barely even recognizable in the song.

The ironic thing is that it's paired with "Frontier no Pioneer", a vastly superior song that also does happen to sound like PUFFY, obviously having been written by Tamio Okuda (long-time PUFFY producer and etc. etc. etc.). It really would have been the A-side to the single if there was any justice in the world. "Frontier no Pioneer" is not a new song, and it's technically a cover as Okuda recorded it himself, but then what is and isn't a "cover" between PUFFY and Tamio is always kind of a grey area. At a certain point, they're just songs that he's written and that both of them have recorded. Sometimes he goes first, sometimes PUFFY does.

I've heard Tamio sing "Frontier no Pioneer", and it is a great, great rock song - sort of laid back and mid-tempo in the way that most of his own songs are, and based completely around the electric guitar as he plays it. PUFFY's version is arranged a little differently, and in a different key to match the girls' higher voices. The electric guitars are replaced with acoustics and piano, and there's a little bit of synthesizer in the background that's mostly unobtrusive but was probably still unnecessary. PUFFY's version is different, but still recognizable, it's still got a great sound and melody, and it's still a rock song - just a little less heavy. And unlike "All Because of You", there's no obvious vocal manipulation going on in the production. The whole thing is as organic and natural as "All Because of You" isn't. They're polar opposites.

Well, c'est la vie. Maybe at this stage of PUFFY's career, we've got to accept a certain number of All Because of Yous if it gets us a few more Frontier no Pioneers. I realize the band needs to remain financially viable.

Rounding out the CD is Ryukyudisko's remix of "Closet Full of Love", which as far as I know was previously only available as a download through Sony's web site for a limited number of people. It's fine as remixes go - at the very least, it doesn't completely destroy the original song as some remixes can. It's still basically "Closet Full of Love", just with a dance beat and lots of breakdowns. There's no real staying power, though, and as with most remixes, it really just makes me want to hear the actual song.

Included with the Special Edition single that I got, and that I suspect most of you would be interested in, is a DVD containing four songs from PUFFY's performance at Shibuya AX last December - the last performance of their Honeysweeper tour. This is a great extra, and easily worth the couple hundred extra yen it costs on top of the standard version of the single (which does not come with a DVD). Here's the track listing:

1. boom boom beat
2. Tokyo I'm on My Way
3. Kimi to Autobike
4. Circuit no Musume

I'm not a huge fan of "boom boom beat" but I have to admit, it rocks pretty hard in a live setting. I've seen them perform it on TV, but you know, Japanese music TV shows are picking up some bad habits from America - most of the time these days, it seems like the band isn't really playing, and there are always at least various pre-recorded bits. So this is the first time I've heard it really live, and it makes a huge difference to the song.

The big highlight for me, though, is "Kimi to Autobike", which is probably my favorite track from honeycreeper (it is, in fact, my current cell phone ringtone), and it's a really powerful, heavy song live. I gotta say I have no idea what the song's actually about, but it's got a pretty dark sound, and it's a different sort of feel from most PUFFY songs in concert. They're not jumping around like they usually do while playing it (not even a bunny hop at the end!), and they both sing it just as earnestly as they do on honeycreeper. It's all very serious, but with the tempo of the song and the driving rhythm, the tension really builds over the course of the song. And they sound great vocally - that exaggerated vibrato and everything. I can't wait to see them play this live in person someday.

The other two tracks are pretty known quantities - "Circuit no Musume" is a staple of all their concerts, and "Tokyo I'm on My Way" has been for the last couple years. They play them as well as ever, but it's hard for me to get as excited about them as I used to. ("Tokyo I'm on My Way" is not old, but it's not my favorite song of theirs.)

Here are a few screen grabs:

Think maybe it's time for a haircut?


This is apparently Volume 1 of 3, according to the official web site. A few thoughts on that:

1. I think they may end up doing the full concert by the time they're done - it was obviously a major production. It's 16:9 enhanced and seems to have been shot in HD from a dozen or more cameras (obvious by the fact that certain close-in shots were not shot in HD, and the difference is clear). I doubt they'd have gone to the trouble to only release a portion of the show. It looks like a real concert DVD.

2. There will be 1 or 2 more singles in the coming months, which means...

3. There will be a new album fairly shortly. Ami supposedly alluded to this in a blog post a while back, but this is just more evidence. A one-off single doesn't usually mean anything, but a run of singles generally precedes an album release in Japan. That would be the perfect way to close out the video extras, too - you need to buy the album to have the "complete" Shibuya AX show DVD collection.

Really hard to assign any final grades when the quality here varies so widely. The single as a whole would be fine if "All Because of You" were simply left off of it. But it's the A-side, so as it is I have to weigh it more heavily than the rest. Regardless of the grades I'm giving, this single is worth buying both for "Frontier no Pioneer" and for "Kimi to Autobike" live.

Final Grades
Music: C+
Performance: B-
Production: C

Lowest grades I've given a PUFFY release. Sorry, girls - it's not your fault.

Monday, May 19, 2008

In da house!

In the hands of this American before it's on sale in Japan. The world has turned upside down, I tell you. Guess it's all that red, white and blue on the cover.

A couple pics of the interior:

Cute. Though not sure I'm actually a fan of the stars & stripes motif. Seems a little overdone.

I got the special edition with the DVD. The regular version has a blue cover with a slightly different cover photo. Not sure what it's like on the inside. It obviously doesn't have this:

Tantalizingly, the DVD portion is labeled "Volume 1". Obviously, that implies more volumes planned.

Full review coming very shortly!

Puffy on Hey! Hey! Hey! All Because of You Live

Second post today, and guess what? Not the last. Oh yes, there's more!

Not sure who actually posted this to YouTube (I have my suspicions), but here's PUFFY on Japanese music show "Hey! Hey! Hey!" today. The dude who put this up works fast! Be sure to stick around for the first live performance I've seen (though not the first televised) of "All Because of You".

The fallout from their infamous Jimmy Kimmel Live interview continues, almost four years on. I'm actually really curious what they're saying about it.

I feel bad for the guy, though. He clearly wasn't prepared - my guess is they were a last-minute sub and were maybe intended originally just to be a musical guest. And that's gotta be a hard interview even under the best circumstances, given the language barrier and the live TV setting. But man, some people are better at improvising than others, I guess.

Little update: Ami and Yumi also think he had no idea who they were. A lot of their banter is about how Ami's the only one that got a good chair - and Ami thought she had to be the interpreter. It was obviously an awkward interview for them.

Excite Music Puffy Close-up

It's all Japanese, but Excite Japan - which is much more of a portal (and much bigger) than Excite is in the US - has posted a "close-up" on PUFFY that includes a long interview, a new video, and some more junk. Click the tabs at the top of the lower section of the page for the different sections. I've tried translating the interview and it's coming out mostly unintelligible - not sure if they're using funky Japanese or if Google's just having a bad day. I'll see if I can get the gist of some of what they're saying later - though obviously, it's all about "All Because of You" and how it came to be.

btw, props to Ami for the David Bowie t-shirt!

There have been some recent TV appearances as well - I'm working on getting some clips, or if I see that anyone else has posted any, I'll link to them here.

UPDATE: Well waddya know, here's one now - bonus video of "Oriental Diamond" from Music Fair on 5/17!

I also got notice this morning that CD Japan has shipped my copy of "All Because of You" two days early, so hopefully I'll have it on the actual release date. I'll be posting my review shortly afterwards.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

CQA - Yumi's Side Project - is Having a Concert

Heads up for those of you in Japan. The on-again, off-again side project band CQA, with Yumi Yoshimura on lead vocals, is having their first concert in three years on May 18. They'll be appearing at the Chelsea Hotel in Tokyo alongside Poni-Camp and The Husky.

Supposedly it's a sold out show, but who knows, do scalpers exist in Japan? I really have no idea. Why not head down to the venue and see if they're selling tickets on the day of the show?

Wish I could go - it'd be interesting (to say the least) to see Yumi singing solo lead in another rock band. Their MySpace page says they're all "too busy" to do much with the band at this point, so this will probably be your only chance for a while.

Somebody did approve my MySpace friend request pretty quick, though... so one of them is probably maintaining that page. (They're unsigned, so I doubt they have a staff.)

btw, thanks to yom1970 for originally letting the non-Japanese speakers among us know about this.

UPDATE: It's now after the 18th - anyone go?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Today is Puffy's 12th Birthday

I suppose next year I'll have to come up with a more imaginative title for this post, but today is "officially" Puffy's birthday. On this day in 1996, Puffy released their first single "Asia no Junshin", and they haven't stopped singing it since.

12 years. It's a long time in the Japanese music business, which can be as fickle as a cat in heat. It's really hard for me to believe that it's been that long, just like it's hard for me to believe my first trip to Japan was nearly ten years ago now. I refuse to believe I'm in my thirties.

I knew about Puffy shortly after their first album was released; I came across them in the course of my work. Saw pictures, heard some song snippets, didn't really think much of them. Disposable, I thought, like so many other young female Japanese idols. Three years later, I was in Japan and saw one of their videos in my hotel room - I think it was "Puffy de Rumba" or something, and it didn't do much to sway my opinion. My next trip was right around the release of the "Hurricane" single, which I also caught at my hotel (I've now got a pretty strong mental association between Puffy and the Makuhari Prince). I remember thinking "man, they've gotten a lot cuter over the years" before realizing that the phrase "over the years" was already kind of an amazing thing to be thinking about a musical act like this. I started to respect them, as I do anyone who displays obvious staying power, whether it be Ayumi Hamasaki or Madonna. They've obviously got something that people want.

But I still wasn't swayed by the music.

Problem was I really hadn't heard any of what I now consider their best stuff, which often isn't the singles. And they were still doing a lot of weird things in those days - it was probably tough picking a really representative song to make a video out of. A rumba was as Puffy-ish as anything else.

In 2004, the buzz for "Hi Hi" started picking up steam in the United States, and I read an article in I believe the New York Daily News that had me both amazed that they were making the trip across the Pacific and that in fact they were still around at all. (It was accompanied by one of my favorite photos of them, which didn't hurt.) I read it with interest despite not knowing or caring about their music at that point - I was more curious about the story behind it all. Some of what I'd read made me wonder if I'd misjudged them, or if they'd simply changed.

Shortly afterwards, the "Hi Hi" web site launched, and one of the things it did was auto-play a rotation of "Planet Tokyo", "Friends Forever" and I believe "K2G". Despite the corny English lyrics of the first two, I was basically blown away. I looked at their official web site and checked out some of the promo photos of them, which at that time had them decked out as indie rock chicks. I remember an almost physical feeling of disappointment that I'd apparently been missing out on this for eight years already, that I apparently just didn't "get it" before then. (I had also just missed their US debut tour.) They were always just what I was looking for in music, and I just hadn't known or seen it.

My first two Puffy albums were, I'm almost embarrassed to say, An Illustrated History and the Hi Hi soundtrack. I just felt like I needed to get caught up, man, and fast. But I realized then how much they had changed over the years, and they've changed a lot again in the four or so years that I've been actively following them. I'm sure they would certainly argue that it's how they stay fresh and relevant... but then I wonder why they still sing "Asia no Junshin" whenever they're on TV. There are obviously a lot of people that still see them, or want to see them, the way they were in 1996.

Anyway, their ten year anniversary was a big deal for them, as it should have been. But each passing year now is no less of a feat, I think, and it'll be pretty unbelievable if we're sitting here in 2016 talking about 20 years of Puffy. But it's starting to look more and more possible.

Happy birthday, Puffy!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

All Because of You Exists

Ami and Yumi have their copies:

Pretty early! Wonder what the delay is in actually getting them to stores. What, 13 more days?

I've got mine being shipped via EMS, and it's the super-deluxe special version, so it's got the DVD of live material along with it. I will be posting a review of both the CD and DVD soon after receiving it. I have not posted any real impressions of the song itself mostly for that reason - I'm saving them for the review - but also because I really just don't quite know how I feel about it yet. I need to listen a few more times to solidify an opinion. Maybe many more times!

By the way, I particularly like this photo that was also posted on the staff blog:

Their photos lately (even the "candid" ones) have all seemed to capture the same types of poses and mood and followed the same sorts of promotional patterns; it's nice to see one that evokes something a little different. Though I see they still managed to include a little plug for Candy Stripper. Well, that's ok.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

All Because of You music video

Full song.

Hmmmm. I'll post my own thoughts at a later time.

btw, YouTube had the original clip removed - this one should be working now. It seems the record labels are continuing their war on those who would actually like to watch their promotional content. And they wonder why album sales continue to drop.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

All Because of You TV Clip

Just a snippet - full song should follow shortly.

Yup. Sounds like Avril Lavigne.

Puffy on Our Music 2

Not sure how old this is, but I'm gonna guess 2006. I looked around for it on the net before uploading, didn't see it. So my bet is not many of you have seen it either.

I haven't attempted to understand what they're talking about, so unfortunately I'm gonna be no help for my American readers. But be sure to stick around for the performance of Boogie Woogie #5 in full kimono towards the end. I'll say at least that my understanding is that on this show, a celebrity interviews their favorite musicians. This guy is not an interviewer; he's an actor and a dancer. And I believe he's friends with the girls, so he chose them. (I may have a detail or two wrong, but that's the basic gist.) (Update: I've got it backwards. See Cheshire Cat's comment below for more info.)

To anyone looking at this via RSS, come to the actual blog to watch the video - Veoh doesn't work in most RSS readers.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


I'm pretty shocked to see that it's been another week now since my last update. That's only two posts in two weeks - it's definitely a slow period.

Well, come back tomorrow - I'll be posting another video interview that I haven't found anywhere else on the net. Some of the more dedicated among you might have seen it when it was first broadcast in Japan, but I'll bet a lot of you haven't.

I'd do it tonight, but it's already Midnight! Check back.