Well, didn’t see this one coming – Tokyo duo Puffyshoes, previously keen to writing songs about fast food and monsters, have made a 19-minute-long album where the lyrics end up the highlight. It’s slightly unfair to categorize their past work as Fischer-Price-market friendly, as the strongest moments of the lo-fi band’s previous two releases zeroed in on loneliness and self-confidence. Yet it’s also easy to hear Puffyshoes singing about ice cream for a minute straight and think “Dylan they ain’t.” New album Finally The Weekend isn’t exactly “Like A Rolling Stone,” but this brief release works because of Puffyshoe’s simple words.
Sonically, the band seemingly stays true to the basement-incubated style they’ve mined since their inception. Finally features simple guitar-drum numbers recorded just as easily, pop songs turned to garage-sale finds thanks to lo-fi leanings. The comparisons roll off the tongue: Best Coast, Vivian Girls, the sorely missed Mika Miko.
Yet Finally finds Puffyshoes edging away from the noisier terrain explored on last year’s triumphant Something Gold, using less feedback in favor of a slightly cleaner sound that, while still a bit choppy, isn’t nearly as aggressive. From a musical viewpoint, Finally is a bit of a step backwards for the two. Whereas a lot of similar “garage bands” coat simplistic pop in fuzz and pray for blog success, Something Gold actually made shitty recording seem vital to the music within, the harsh buzz turning something like “The Scary Monster” into something kinda legitimately creepy, or making the lonelier numbers see even more isolated. The noise acted as a third member, forcing Neko and Usagi to make room for it and work with it. Finally plays it a lot safer, more inclined to Best Coast than anything else.
Oh but those lyrics, out of nowhere to turn Finally into a great listen. These aren’t complex, borderline-concept-album lines that signal Puffyshoes decision to become the Japanese Decemberists, but rather exceedingly simple stuff, mostly about romance and friends. Critically, though, it’s also not stupid as hell, like hearing Best Coast talk about wishing her cat could talk so they could smoke weed together. Puffyshoes recorded ten modern-day haikus that boil away all the unnecessary stuff in order to get right to the center issue. Which, turns out to be love blooming and ending, with a few diversions here and there. This is the weekend after all, can’t obsess the whole thing away.
Let’s look at the lyrics to lead track “Baby Kiss Me,” a song that doesn’t really need to say anything more than the title. It’s one of the sludgier moments on Finally, one of the songs that could have snuck onto Something Gold just fine.
“Baby kiss me/Don’t be shy!/Why do you look so cute/Why do you make me wanna love you/I wanna love you and I wanna kiss you/Don’t be shy!”
The entire thing, captured in about two single-spaced lines. Reading them separate from the music makes them appear overly simplistic – and they are. Yet Puffyshoes make it count, turning simple wants into slogans in waiting. Finally is Puffyshoes finding a foreign lover and realizing they can’t be coy about language, but rather direct and to the point about wants and needs.
Thus, Puffyshoes crank out stuff like the longing “I Want A Boy,” a laundry list of seemingly consumer-driven qualities in a lover (“I want a boy in tight pants/I want a boy in Converse shoes”) that slyly morphs into an earnest wish for a real relationship, the vocals turning more sorrow-drenched come the line “I want a boy/who loves me a lot.” “Secrets” deals with secrets, and features the best vocal-interplay the duo have shared on a recording yet. Even the album’s goofiest cut, “Backstage Pass” (“I wish that middle finger was only for me”) hides a deep desire to just be noticed by someone. All of it very simple, all of it very easy to connect to.
Some of the strongest moments on Finally only require two or even one line of words to make an impact. “Tokio (Dedicated To Gagakirise)” stands as the album’s most fist-pumping moment, behind the declaration “welcome back to Tokyo/It’s a party for you!” Later track “Oh Yeah” gets by on just those two words, while “Jacky Jones” ends up being Puffyshoe’s big kiss-off song, anchored by the biting chest-poke “I don’t want to see your face anymore.” Who needs a long, detailed text message when you can call things off so simply?
Puffyshoe’s end the album with the sweet “Dear My Friend,” a nice pick-me-up after an album mostly caught dwelling on love gone wrong or never gone anywhere at all. Again, the title sums it up – here is a track that basically serves as a letter to a friend, celebrating all the great stuff said pal has added to their life. There is a bit of a darker side here – the reason this audio-letter gets composed in the first place is because of a fight – but ultimately this is probably Puffyshoes finest song to date, a simple celebration of good things in one’s life. It hits like revelation – after singing about imaginary friends and lonely birthdays on Something Gold and spending most of Finally staring at boys who don’t seem to know the narrator exist, peace gets found in an honest-to-goodness real person.
Finally The Weekend shows us a new side of Puffyshoes that didn’t always shine through before. Whereas Something Gold was a wacky YouTube clip brimming with energy, Finally serves as the duo’s personal journal, a collection of deep thoughts rendered simple. It isn’t quite maturing, more like letting one’s guard down. As an album, I’ll take Something Gold over this one. Yet this is Puffyshoe’s big emotional number, the duo at their most human.