Thursday, February 19, 2009

Puffy AmiYumi: Boogie Woogie No. 5 etc.

Last time the Tanuki was in Japan he rented some CDs by a duo called Puffy and sweated them down into a disc of their best singles. If you don't know Puffy, you really should. If you spent any time in Japan in the late '90s, they were inescapable, but they're still around and doing good work today. In fact, I'd venture to say that in the ten years since their debut in 1996 they put out one of the best strings of singles I'm aware of anybody anywhere ever putting out. Just one perfect pop record after another.

It helps that they're backed by one of J-pop's reigning geniuses, Okuda Tamio. His group Unicorn was big in the '80s, and he's had a decent solo career going ever since, but Puffy is how he's really left his mark. He writes many of their best tunes and oversees a lot of the production, and the result is like two girls in the candy store of pop. You can pick out elements of the Beatles, the Who, ELO, and countless others in their songs - in addition to bits of things like rhumbas, boogie-woogies, and other song forms that survived in '60s Japanese pop after they'd been eradicated by rock in the west.

All of which makes it sound like pastiche, but it's saved from being just a poppier Pizzicato Five by the fact that Okuda writes really good songs, and Puffy make really good records. Like, the melodies are always well-developed, the arrangements are always creative and incisive, and the singing - well, the girls themselves aren't excellent singers, but they're incredibly friendly- sounding. Unlike, say, P-5 or some Western pop magpies I could think of, they never disappear up the wazoo of their pop culture obsessions, and they never let themselves get dragged down by the irony of the music nerd. It's pure pop in the best sense, like a sunny afternoon in the park.

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