Thursday, December 30, 2010

Album Review: Nice.

There has been a sequence I had in mind when I started my album review project for Amiyumidas. The goal was to work the ends and meet in the middle. Nice and Spike were intended to be my last album reviews... but some things don't go according to plan and it was requested I do a review for Nice.

I am going with the American release of the Nice for this review. This is likely the version readers here are most likely to own... but if you are a completist like me you own both! The key differences are that the Japanese version has Red Swing but does not have Planet Tokyo and includes Brand New Days and Friends. The American version has Urei, Red Swing and the Teen Titans Theme as the bonus tracks. The cover of Nice is an homage to the famous John Lennon and Yoko Ono photo from 1969.

My theory is that with the relatively high number English language tracks that Nice was positioned as the album for which Ami and Yumi were to break into the American mainstream. It did not really work out that way, but that isn't a discredit of the album either.

Andy Sturmer produced the entirety of Nice and also credited with the lyrics or music on every track. Tamio Okuda contributes on one track and Ami and Yumi on seven tracks. While I generally feel a little Sturmer goes a long way (but that might be the off kilter 59 mini album affecting me...). When he is on point, Sturmer's collaborations with Puffy are great, but an entire album of helmed by him is worth exploring. Generally speaking Sturmer brings a precision to Nice's production that may never have been seen on previous Puffy albums and he keeps Ami and Yumi in key for the duration. Also of note is that neither Ami or Yumi have solo tracks on the album.

Nice was an album that I listened to a lot as I was still getting into Puffy and my back catalog of them has some holes (my how that has changed...). I maybe over listened to it, which might explain why it is not an album that hits my media player when I crave a full Puffy album. This makes for a great exercise in my Puffy album review project.

Here is the track list for Nice:

1. Planet Tokyo (words & music: Andy Sturmer)
2. Tokyo Nights (lyrics: Pierre Taki / music: Andy Sturmer)
3. Angel Of Love (lyrics: Shoko Suzuki / music: Andy Sturmer)
4. Sayonara (lyrics: YO-KING music: Andy Sturmer)
5. Invisible Tomorrow (lyrics: Puffy / music: Andy Sturmer)
6. Thank You (lyrics: Yumi Yoshimura / music: Andy Sturmer)
7. Long Beach Nightmare (lyrics: Ami Onuki / music: Andy Sturmer)
8. Your Love Is A Drug (words & music: Andy Sturmer)
9. K2G (lyrics: Puffy / music: Andy Sturmer)
10. Shiawase (Happiness) (lyrics: Tamio Okuda / music: Andy Sturmer)
11. Urei (lyrics: Puffy / music: Andy Sturmer)
12. Teen Titans Theme (words & music: Andy Sturmer)
13. Red Swing (lyrics: Puffy / music: Andy Sturmer)

Planet Tokyo is a rocking first track for Nice and sets the tone. It is guitar driven and the keyboards are all but swallowed up. Ami and Yumi deliver vocally. Like most of the tracks on the album, it has a tight production than fans of Puffy might be turned off by, but on the plus side Sturmer makes the girls sing in tune. A side note Australian teen stars Sophie and Kia covered Planet Tokyo (I am convinced that the only difference is the vocal tracks were swapped) and while not as good of a result it is still a fun take and a sign of a good song is if other people can sing it in an entertaining fashion.

Cross fading from Planet Tokyo comes Tokyo Nights, which is a slower rock effort, where guitars swallowed keyboards previously... it is the other way about on this track. It is a good counter balance to the opening track and delivers a thumping good song. Ami and Yumi are a little washed out at points as the instruments at points take the front, which takes a little away from the song.

Angel of Love is a slower poppy song that tilts towards a 60's girl group sound. It is a song that has a feeling of open space. It never quite works for me, it doesn't have a hook to reel me in.

Sayonara is another slower pop/rock track that is really excellently layered and Ami and Yumi's vocals do hook me. Musically it is a balanced effort guitars, drums and keyboards are all great and none particularly take the front... which as that is where Ami and Yumi.

Invisible Tomorrow is my favorite of the iterations of this song. It's music track has been used on two other songs So Long Zero and Friends Forever. Of the three versions this one I like best, but So Long Zero has some merit as it is not a traditionally happy Puffy song. Friends Forever... not so much. Ami and Yumi deliver powerful vocals here and while it is mainly a straight up rock song there are some fun syth laden vocal samples that twist the song in interesting ways.

Tilting towards a standard J-Pop track, Thank You was penned by Yumi. So far as the music goes a=on a compositional level it is nothing special, however the layers of Ami and Yumi's vocals is nifty. The musical arrangement for the song is also noteworthy as a lot of effects and instruments are used. Overall it might be a more interesting than great track.

Ami penned the lyrics for Long Beach Nightmare and it is a poppy and guitar driven, I want to say it has a 60's sound... but I am not entirely sure that is accurate. Unfortunately it is a track that I do not care for, as it tilts to a sappiness that I cannot rectify.

Maybe it is a function of listening to power poppy Your Love Is A Drug a lot when Nice came out... it is not one that has stuck with me over the years. So far as production and music goes it is the best put together track on the album. There are lots and lots of layers and everything feels balanced. I don't feel it is the best sung track on Nice, Ami and Yumi's vocals feel a tad washed out and maybe notch over engineered.

K2G is another guitar heavy track, that to me sounds like it has Caribbean tones, but also is the mix are horns which is a nice change. It is a fun track and one I like... simple as that.

Shiawase is a slower track with an acoustic bent and Tamio Okuda's single contribution to the album. I also think it is one of the better tracks so far as Ami and Yumi's vocal deliveries go. It might be a touch over engineered on the musical side but it is still as pleasant change-of-pace track, yet not one of the better Tamio collaborations with Puffy.

Urei starts off very slow, maybe too slow... it soon reveals itself as a barn-burner of a song. It is a great song by its own right and a fine example of when Sturmer is on point with Puffy the results are fantastic. I think this might be the one time we in the US got something very nice (pun intended) before Japanese fans as it appeared a year later on the Sunrise EP.

Teen Titans Theme... I literally cannot hit the next button fast enough... I guess it is fun, but it feels like it was bolted onto Nice as a marketing move.

Red Swing is the Japanese rendition of Planet Tokyo (or vice versa)... lyrically a different song, but I am glad this was thrown onto the US release of Nice. Of the two versions I think this is the better. Ami and Yumi deliver much tighter vocals and again when a Sturmer song is good... it is really good.

Nice represents the last cohesive album by Puffy as Sturmer produced the entire album. Overall the album is tight though in some ways it feels inorganic as compared to other Puffy albums... Sometimes Ami and Yumi being a nudge off works out better.

An interesting comparison of Nice is to the album Spike, which was Puffy's first true multi-producer album. Neither are my favorite albums but I am uncertain which album I would like more. Nice delivers a steady sound, where Spike offers a diversity of songs. This might also have something to do with Sturmer, amazingly, playing the lion's share of instruments on the album. Sturmer more than earned his duckets on Nice.

The end result is Nice has a lot going for it, I believe it benefited from having a single producer at the helm, but on a track by track basis it probably had too much of Sturmer's direct involvement.

Overall Grades:
Singing: A-
Instrumentation: B
Production: A

h/t to puffyamiyumiworld for track information

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas From Amiyumidas

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

As a special holiday blog... I would have been content finding a Puffy themed photo... however I found this instead.

At the recent New York Anime Festival where Ami and Yumi performed, they also did an interview for Samurai Beat Radio.

Take a listen, listen takers!

Click Here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

R.G.W. Bonus Concert Footage Review

Bundled with the deluxe version of the R.G.W. single were six songs from Puffy’s 2010 Gekidan Asesu tour. I am really enjoying that this single is jam packed with six concert clips, which is about double what previous singles had. From reading Puffy’s blog , this might be a function of Puffy being between albums and serving as a way to fire up fans. For me it works, but I am somewhat qualified in that assessment.

This concert footage is from Puffy’s July 11, 2010 show at Showa Women’s University Hitomi Memorial Hall.* The quality of the footage is on par with the clips from the Bring it! singles, though to me it looks like they are fewer cameras and some of the shots are not as well composed. Hitomi Memorial Hall looks to be a step down from Shibuya-AX (which is relatively close by) and my impression is mainly that it is not as loud of a venue. The audio is crisp and very well engineered.

My overall impression is if you like the slower and poppy Puffy songs you will be very happy with the Gekidan Asesu concert selections. I did like that guitars were the usual driving instrument but this is not nearly as pronounced as the past. Both lead and rhythm seem to be a little less aggressive and seem to default to a surf revival sound. Keyboards felt more subdued than the last set of concert selections. Drums and bass remained good, but the bass volume could have been turned up a notch. It could be the rest of the concert was electrifying. It might be the venue was not optimal for recording. For me there was something lacking with the songs selected, but I cannot exactly put my finger upon it.

A big plus on these selections is that Ami seems more engaged this go around. Yumi seems a little detached. That is just an impression based upon past selections. I could very well be wrong as this is a fraction of the concert. Both Ami and Yumi look great, but a totally different make-up style than previous tours. Think more like their Lavuschka adverts than Tour 10. Yumi is back to short hair, Ami’s just past halfway down her back. They are not trying to look older or younger than they are, which I find to be nice.

Continuing to drift in Cosmopolitan Magazine territory… I will note Ami and Yumi are dressed up as color blind sailors. While I appreciate they do their own thing when it comes to appearance, the fine line between eccentric and ridiculous has been crossed. I now miss the plaid overalls from Fever*Fever and I never thought I would hear myself say that. However the dancer’s costumes totally take the sting from a wardrobe selection I do not like.

The overall track selection is hit and miss for me and it goes as follows:
1. Nice Buddy
2. Ai no Shirushi
3. Circuit No Musume
4. complaint
5. Boogie Woogie No 5
6. Youkai Puffy

Nice Buddy is one of my favorite Sturmer songs of Puffy’s and this rendition is a bit slower and mellow. I like the dueling bass and electric guitars near the end. It is pretty rare (if at all) Puffy’s bassist ever goes front and center and I thought that was nifty. One of the nice things about Puffy is that they give room for their backing band to contribute. Over all I liked Nice Buddy.

Ai no Shirushi is song that plays tug of war with me. I enjoy the studio version and (going against my usual preferences) the remix on An Illustrated History / PRMX also. As a concert selection it rarely works for me, it is too little of a song in a big room. That combined with a more subdued performance it becomes a performance that doesn’t work for me.

Circuit no Musume was not a selection I was looking forward to… similar reasons to the above. But for whatever reason the tone of the concert made this one fun. It always cracks me up when Ami and Yumi mug to the camera and break the glass barrier as-it-were. Backing vocals were fun and different making Circuit no Musume is an unexpectedly great track. I like it very much when Ami and Yumi surprise me.

The studio version of complaint via honeycreeper is a track I have always liked, so I was looking forward to hearing a live version. Of the concert footage for the RGW single, it is the fastest paced and comes together nicely. The guitarists are slightly out of synch with their backing vocals, but that is a minor quibble. I could listen to live songs like this all day and be perfectly happy.

Ska without horns? It feels weird to not have Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra supporting Boogie Woogie No 5, I am feeling spoiled from the Tour 10 Final live version. With a flip to the more electrified verison, I found myself not missing the horn support at all. That came as a surprise.

Also lots and lots of backup dancers… which is an understatement for Boogie Woogie No 5. So far as a visual performance I can take or leave dancing, but as it is in the show, it was good. The dancers costumes are ridiculously awful however. Good synchronization with all involved and Ami and Yumi do more dancing than as they say, a drunk person could handle… This was very cool to see. Boogie Woogie No 5 fit the tone and tenor of the show well and at times was kicked up a notch.

Youkai Puffy… of the six songs I was most looking forward to this one. As some might recall from my review of honeycreeper that this was one of my favorite songs from that album. Or I paraphrase it was a barn burner of a Skooby Do episode on meth. This version is something of a missed opportunity and while I still liked it… there were things I did not. The aforementioned dancers are en masse on stage then peel off to a pair. Then about a third of the way through the selection Ami and Yumi go off stage and their dance choreographer comes on stage.

There are a couple of funny tidbits to be had, but end result is she goes through a Youkai Puffy dance for the crowd. However you know something is padded when the producers of the DVD literally fast forward through the grindingly slow bits. I won’t say this killed it for me, but Youkai Puffy is a song built for speed not pit stops.

Ami and Yumi come back on stage and with a slow lead in Youkai Puffy gets back on the rails. The only benefit to the padded dance instruction is the crowd is now moving in synch with everyone on stage. I wish this selection has been more cohesive because the two parts were both great it was that middle part that put me off.

The bonus concert clips from R.G.W. were good fun. I would not categorize it as my favorite live footage as it felt slightly toned down. After watching the selections a half dozen times I was still thrilled to see Ami and Yumi's live performance. Their stage presence and ability to sing live are things I have greatly appreciated over the years and here is not exception.

Overall grades:
Music: B
Performance: B+
Production: B-

*say that five times fast…

h/t to the great Peace. Pop. Puffy for some of the concert details

Sunday, December 5, 2010

R.G.W. Single Review

I finally got my copy of Puffy's 30th single R.G.W. and after a few listens through I can finally put some thoughts down on a page. I am very pleased that the two extra songs are not an instrumental, karaoke or remix. Double so that Yumi and Ami wrote the lyrics for the extra tracks and co-wrote with Tamio for the title track. Anyways, here is the track list:

1. R.G.W. (lyrics: Tamio Okuda & Puffy, music: Tamio Okuda)
2. Jet Love (lyrics: Yumi Yoshimura, music: Shigeo Naka)
3. Koi no Yama Arashi (lyrics: Ami Onuki, music: Taka Aoki)

R.G.W. is readily identifiable as a Tamio Okuda collaboration with Puffy. He offers up his signatures of a throwback sound, modern sensibilities with a Japanese wrapper. This is something that has been overlong so far as Puffy songs go. Maybe it is a good thing his return to Puffy is a holiday song, which as a gimmick sort of song has slightly lowered expectations...

Tamio delivers a rocking song with what I believe are elfin boot stompin rockabilly tinges. The back 40 seconds of the R.G.W. sort of gets a little lost, think padding as opposed to wrapping up a present during holy Christmas time. The lyrics tilt a little to the listing of colors, and listing of stuff has worked better in other songs* (Oriental Diamond or Beginnings come to mind). Also Ami and Yumi's voices feel slightly over processed. End result is I am a tough sell for a holiday song but I liked R.G.W.

The first ten seconds of Jet Love hooked me and in a totally good way dragged me into the rest of the song. Of the tracks on R.G.W., Jet Love I think is the most cohesive in regards singing, instruments and production. The sound comes closest to a 60's beach movie, but interspersed in the chorus is a tinge that I can only compare to the 1970's UK band The Vapors. Ami and Yumi deliver with Jet Love, but sometimes the instruments feel are tad a touch strong and every so slightly wash out their singing.

For the life of me I was trying to figure out where I had heard Koi no Yama Arashi before. I rooted around YouTube and it dawned on me to look up Pink lady songs. The nail in my head was struck by the hammer (the Pink Lady song I stumbled upon was UFO...). Of the three songs on the R.G.W. single Koi no Yama Arashi is the one that I think Ami and Yumi deliver the most notable vocal performance of the three tracks on R.G.W. The music backing them was a mixed lot, however.

I appreciated the heavy 70's guitar sound in Koi no Yama Arashi but I felt the rest of the instruments were either over powered or too quiet. While decent, of the three tracks production fell slightly short by comparison. There is a weird hiccup or change of pace at the three minute mark, not certain what they were trying to do. It is almost like the song was short so they bolted on an extra minute which was also a slight issue of mine for the R.G.W. track.

Overall R.G.W. is a good effort but I am happier that it is a consistent effort. I am not sure if all three songs shared producers or were even supported by the same musicians, but the three tracks felt that way. I wound up liking the Jet Love and Koi no Yama Arashi b-sides (now kind of an anachronistic term given the format...) slightly more than R.G.W. itself.

Singing: B
Instrumentation: A-
Production: B

Jet Love
Singing: A-
Instrumentation: A
Production: A-

Koi no Yama Arashi
Singing: A
Instrumentation: B
Production: B

h/t to PuffyAmiYumiworld for the track info.

* edited to clear some confusing writing.