wears the trousers magazine


sounding off: june 2009 (iv)

In part four: J-pop japes with Puffy (aka Puffy AmiYumi) and Shiina Ringo, plus the return of Dawn Smithson.

* * *

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Puffy
Bring It! ••½
Ki/oon

It’s party time with Puffy AmiYumi, the Japanese duo with their own ‘mania’ named after them. And just like an American teen movie, the soundtrack to a Puffymania party is firmly punk-rock-pop. There’s even an appearance from Avril Lavigne, who co-wrote both the opening track ‘I Don’t Wanna’ and teaser single ‘All Because Of You’ alongside Butch Walker. ‘I Don’t Wanna’ reaches out to image-conscious teenagers with lyrics like “I don’t wanna be anybody else but me! / Don’t wanna be perfect like you see in all the TV shows, magazines and the videos!”, though it’s possibly worth noting that both members of Puffy – Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura – are now in their thirties. It’s a bit twee and a bit grim, but it sounds alright: guitars, drums and some woah-woah-ing. It’s one of many like it.

Bring It! is a chorus-centric record. Kelly Clarkson would make light work of a lot of the material here and P!nk would deal with the rest. A few tracks do manage to shift away from the standard template slightly: ‘Bye Bye’ has a nice melodic synth motif right from the start, and is served with a huge dollop of euphoria and a key change, while ‘DOKI DOKI’ opens like Elastica, only switching to a ska frolic for the chorus. It’s beyond boisterous. Onuki and Yoshimura are appropriately presented looking something like malleable grunge-robots on the cover. Switch them on and they can perform and entertain, but you know what you’re going to get.

Daniel Clatworthy
Available on import only; www.myspace.com/wearepuffyamiyumi

 

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Shiina Ringo
Sanmon Gossip ••
EMI Japan / Virgin

It’s not easy to understand how Shiina Ringo’s solo career has lasted ten years when Sanmon Gossip has about as much impact as a lazy Saturday afternoon flicking through TV channels. Largely composed of funky jazz numbers, it’s hard to put a date on, but it doesn’t sound like a contemporary record. It hasn’t been produced to have a nostalgic resonance either. It has all the resonance of a jam session in a meat-and-potatoes recording studio. Add the occasional MC to the mix and you’ve got a record delivered direct from the late 1990s.

That said, squeezed between the jazz are a handful of noteworthy tracks. ‘Togatta Teguchi’, though still sounding dated, takes its cues from a different genre: think Version 2.0-era Garbage, or Republica. ‘Tsugou no ii Karada’ flies in punch-drunk on love, like the camp number in a musical after the scene with the inevitably coy kiss. These are merely noteworthy by pure fact of not sounding like the rest. It’s only ‘Bonsai Hada’ that gives this album any reason for existing. An incredible track that can only have ended up in this collection by accident, it features accordionist Yasuhiro Kobayashi over whose jagged, freeform playing Ringo sings with the passion and despair of Édith Piaf. Much more of this collaboration please.

Daniel Clatworthy
Available on import only; www.emimusic.jp/artist/ringo

 

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Dawn Smithson
Earth Machine •••
Self-released

Former bassist and vocalist with mid-Nineties Kranky recording artists Jessamine, Dawn Smithson’s second solo album Earth Machine is a mysterious combination of plucked strings, synths and downbeat vocals. The album feels as though it is telling a story as each song runs into the next with no sense of hesitation, almost like the wind blowing through trees. Smithson’s voice reeks of melancholy and despair, yet the music offers an uplifting parallel which results in an enigmatic album which needs tranquil surroundings and concentration to appreciate.

With guest appearances from Jesse Sykes, Castanets’ Ray Raposa and the late Bill Herzog, plus returning collaborators David Farrell and Jussi Brightmore, this album isn’t easy listening, but instead is an attempt at something more soulful and complete. Though it tries a bit too hard to hit the psych-folk bullseye at times, it mostly works. Dawn Smithson has woven a web with Earth Machine and it is left up to each listener to untangle her fine silks and make their own personal connection with the album.

Claire Robinson
UK release date: 15/05/09; www.myspace.com/dawnsmithson

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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Interesting to see you covering some Japanese artists (hope to see you cover more); a current interest of mine. I’m particularly looking for indie / alternative Japanese female singers. I’ve got a list on emusic: http://www.emusic.com/profile/index.html#/profile/ajax/lists/showlist.html?lid=36021198&p=

Comment by Jason Oldfield

thanks Jason! we will hopefully be dipping into J-pop etc. more often, and will definitely check out your list.

Comment by Wears The Trousers magazine

Oh, pretty harsh to the Shiina Ringo album there. Just wondering if you have listened to any of her earlier CDs. I think I would have been far more dismissive of her latest CD if I hadn’t heard her earlier work.
You should give them a try.

Comment by Shaun




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