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
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

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wedding Bell "live"

Someone - maybe TofuUnion? - posted a link to this in a comment a little while back, and it's probably worth dedicating a late post to:

This is actually one of my favorite songs on Bring It!, and this "live" video is well shot, but the lip-syncing really bothers me. They never used to do this, but I'm seeing it more and more... it's not just them either, but it seems industry-wide in Japan. They're following our lead, which is pretty unfortunate in this case - one of the things I always liked about Japanese pop music was that even the biggest, most popular and often least-talented singers always had to sing their own songs live on TV. So you'd finally get to hear how awful Leah Dizon really was without any studio tricks to back her up. (Go ahead, click the link and fast forward a bit - but I warn you, it's painful. It's saying something that AKB48 is actually the more talented bunch in that video.) Really separated the wheat from the chaff.

Anyway, what's the point of watching somebody just mouth the words to an album track?

But this is not really the case any longer, at least not with some shows, and even Puffy are now lip-syncing through most of their TV appearances. This performance seems to have some live instrumentation and possibly vocals over it, but it's mostly just them trying to look like they're singing. Which wouldn't have been so obvious at the time it was filmed, but is now.

EDIT: Anthony pointed this video out in the comments, and I thought I'd add it here because I think it's kind of hilarious. Puffy + SMAP singing the same song (all together), and this one sounds like it's not lip-synced - although it may have just been re-recorded in advance for this show. It still looks a little too effortless.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Puffy's Summer Concerts

Ami blogged the set lists from two of the summer concerts Puffy Performed at, Rock In Japan FES and Summer Sonic 09. For a festival set list, it looks like a decent and long selection of new and classic Puffy. Sometimes festival set lists are curtailed so seems like a nice surprise.

Rock In Japan FES
1. Tokyo I'm On My Way
2. Ai no shirushi
4. Dareka ga
5. Bring it on
6. Asia no Junshin
7. Nagisa ni matsuwaru etc.
8. My Story

Summer Sonic 09
1. Tokyo I'm On My Way
2. Ai no shirushi
3. Bring it on
4. Dareka ga
5. Hi Hi
6. I Don't Wanna
7. Asia no Junshin
8. Nagisa ni Matsuwaru etc.
9. My Story

Ami also posted a number pictures from Summer Sonic 09 via Puffy's MySpace blog. Here are a couple from that blog.

Photo credits: Summer Sonic 09

Friday, August 14, 2009

Album Review: Bring it!

Puffy’s first album in nearly two years, Bring it! mostly delivers an album I like… but as Jeff reviewed previously it is an album that I have to put a few qualifications and come to some similar conclusions, albeit via a different route.

Overall Bring it! is definitely structured more as a pop album (re a mishmash of musical stylings, ergo pop as in popular) rather than leaning towards rock which I would categorize honeycreeper and Splurge without hesitation.

While structured like earlier Puffy albums and after listening to Bring it! I am not convinced that Puffy can (or should) snap back to 1999. There are a lot of reasons for this, be it simply their voices changing over the years, song selection, change of musical support or simply whatever Ami and Yumi are interested in doing musically is now different.

One serious absence is any song by Tamio Okuda, whom I think writes the best Puffy songs and more importantly his songs get the best out of Ami and Yumi as performers. The synergy between the three is remarkable and only one song on Bring it! matches that kind of synergy.

For reference, here is the track list for Bring it! (also please note my Japanese is awful as I am not a speaker of the language, so generally speaking I judge lyrics often by sound and feel…)

1. I Don't Wanna (Lyrics & Music: Butch Walker & Avril Lavigne)
2. My Story (Lyrics: PUFFY Music: Anders Hellgren & David Myhr)
3. Bye Bye (Lyrics & Music: Masahiko Shimura)
4. My Hero! (Lyrics & Music: Roger Joseph Manning Jr.)
5. Shuen no Onna (Lyrics & Music: Sheena Ringo)
6. DOKI DOKI (Lyrics & Music: Masahiko Shimura)
7. Twilight Shooting Star! (Lyrics & Music: Sawao Yamanaka)
8. Hare Onna (Lyrics & Music: Kazuyoshi Saito)
9. All Because Of You (Lyrics & Music: Butch Walker & Avril Lavigne)
10. Anata to Watashi (Lyrics: PUFFY Music: Yuta Saito)
11. Hiyori Hime (Lyrics & Music: Sheena Ringo)
12. Bring it on (Lyrics: Ami Onuki  Music: Takeshi Hosomi)
13. Wedding Bell (Lyrics & Music: Yoshiaki Furuta)

My Story is flat out the best song on Bring it! and I cannot get enough of it. Ami and Yumi both deliver on the vocals and the instruments and engineering are tight. If there is one song that will survive the binges and purges of my mp3 rotation, this is the one. In some ways My Story captures the singing style of Puffy that I enjoy, when they harmonize and sing together. It may not sound like anything from Fever Fever, but it feels like it and more importantly brings it. (pardon the pun)

Of the two offerings by Butch Walker and Avril Lavinge, I Don’t Wanna is the better of the two. It is listenable but I would not call it a great song. All Because Of You on the other hand is really, really not a good song. I find it painful and soul crushing to listen to. From a Japanese perspective there are probably good reasons why a couple tracks credited to Avril Levinge would have popular and marketing appeal for Bring it!, but as an American music fan it makes me shake my head in disappointment. That said, my niece in Singapore loves Avril Lavigne and maybe I am being a grumpy old man telling Lavigne to get off my musical lawn…

The pair of songs by Sheena Ringo (however she chooses to spell it) Shuen no Onna and Hiyori Hime are decidedly better than the Walker and Levigne offerings. Shuen no Onna, to me, has a jazz and fifties vibe to it that I find pleasant and a nice change of pace song. Hiyori Hime is a song that took a while for me to enjoy, but to my surprise I have come to feel that way about it. I think there is still something missing and a it is a bit sloppy in the instruments, specifically the drumming and guitar work and the keyboards are a touch overwrought. Yet Hiyori Hime has a great flow to it with some very good up and down tempos. Jeff is spot on in that this probably is more Puffy performing a Sheena Ringo song rather than Sheena Ringo writing a Puffy song.

A song that feels out of place is Anata to Watashi and looking at the contributing artists for instruments… I have to wonder if this is a song that Puffy needed to clear off the shelves and fill out Bring it!... either way it is a bad song and mimics a sound by Puffy that is not amongst my favorites to begin with.

Wedding Bell was song that surprised me on Bring it!. After listening to the original I was concerned that this was not going to be a cover by Puffy I would particularly enjoy. I was wrong. As Jeff noted in his review, it does have a snap back to 1999 feel and an effortless one at that. Tempo wise, it would not have been a song that would have leapt out at me under most circumstances, but for whatever reason Wedding Bell works for me.

Boiling down the rest of Bring it!... My Hero is a decent but it is not a distinguishing effort. Twilight Shooting Star is a song I liked well enough, but I think the singing effort comes off a bit more rough than I would have liked. Doki Doki is another song that probably slides under the radar for many listeners it is a mish-mash sort of effort that I could see people not liking but to me it is different and sometimes I like an offbeat song. Bring it on is another mish-mash song with pop, rock and punk influences that I think is a fun listen but it does not exactly stick in my brain either. Hare Onna also has a snap back feel, but it is a song that feel is unpolished and incomplete, particularly in the chorus which to me is very muddled.

The cover for Bring it!, is not one I especially care for. I can see what the idea was, but I generally do not like heavily altered pictures... they creep me out. I am not sure what cover might have tied the album together, but this is not it. My wife’s comment after looking at the cover and flipping through the liner notes was they are trying too hard to look young. So far as the liner notes go, they had the usual information with imagery I did not care for.

Bring it! is an album that is listenable and on the balance I enjoyed it, but it is not a distinctive effort by Ami and Yumi either. Ami and Yumi both sing well on the album regardless of the song, but behind them the effort seems mixed. There might be a reason for that, but that is another blog.

For fans of Puffy, Bring it! is worth picking up, but it is not an album by I would suggest someone new to Ami and Yumi start with either. There are some very good songs on the album, and regardless of there being a few subpar tracks that cause that split distinction.

Final Grades

Music: B-
Production: C
Performance: B-

As a note, I will review the bonus concert DVD separately as I have not had a chance to watch it beyond a cursory viewing.

Monday, August 10, 2009

New single! Dareka ga

PUFFY have a new single out, and pretty quick after the release of BRING IT! It's the theme song to some new Naruto anime, I guess, and I haven't had time to read much about it yet but it'd surprise me if it wasn't a cover. I'll have a bit more on it tomorrow, but here's a live version of it below to tide you over (and sorry about the low, somewhat out of sync audio - the options on YouTube are limited):

btw, unrelated but I have been waiting a long time to see this again:

Thursday, August 6, 2009


When Jeff put out the call for some help blogging here at amiyumidas, I had to jump at the chance. Jeff has put together a blog that meshes with a lot of my own opinions and general view points about Puffy. I enjoy smaller, more personal discussions about a band I seriously enjoy.

This is the place for the writing I want to do and the discussions that stem from it. I have always had the desire to blog about Puffy, but never felt that I had enough material to go forward… now joining up with Jeff to help deliver a blog about Puffy… that is another story.

Writing about music presents a new challenge for me. My writing gigs have always revolved around humor, politics and gaming in a couple media formats, but truth be told… music is a passion of mine that I have yet to really express and Puffy has a special place in my music library. If I were going to branch out and talk about music it would be about them.

What songs and albums by Puffy do I like? That would be giving up the farm in one blog…. As to what future blogs hold, I have a number of ideas that have been percolating in my brain. Some of this involves reviewing Puffy’s albums, some of this is discussing finer points of their music but outside of that, if news items or such come up that I can gin up a blog about…

Anyways, there is no shortage of things I would like to blog about and I look forward to sharing these with other fans of Puffy.

Yet before I go forward, maybe I should take a step back.

How I began listening to Puffy stems from a conversation at work on a slow day at the oil and gas company my friend Doug and I were freelancing at during the summer of 2002. The conversation turned to music a subject both Doug and I were passionate about… but until that day there has been no overlap. I had a middling interest in Japanese rock as I had been a fan of Shonen Knife since college and had listened to snippets of other artists. Doug being fluent in Japanese and having a long held interest in J-Pop (not to mention had lived in Japan and is married to a Japanese friend of my wife’s) emphatically told me I should check out Puffy.

I bought An Illustrated History that afternoon and never turned back.

All that said, I want to thank Jeff for the opportunity to blog at amiyumidas and look forward to sharing my thoughts on Puffy.

Monday, August 3, 2009

New blogger!

Ladies and gentlemen, we now have a new face around here. Some of you may know him as commenter darkurthe, but he'll be posting under the name Wes.

We'll have to see what he's got planned. In any case, he'll hopefully help fill in some of the gaps when I'm busy with my little store, although he won't be a full-time blogger here either and I'll probably still do the bulk of it - assuming I can ever get some free time. I really want to get back to spending more time here, but it's just not easy at the moment. (I *will* have a few more posts soon.)

Anyway, join me in welcoming Wes! And look forward to his first post shortly.