Japanese Cutie-Poppers Think You're Ready for This Jellyfish

In the early '90s, just as grunge began overflowing from underground to mainstream, Jelly-fish happened. The San Francisco Krofft-rockers could rock as hard as their northern neighbors, but they put more effort into tunes and hooks and arrangements and production and presentation, and those predilections meant their sublimely ridiculous outfits and art-pop anthems never got beyond a few late-night MTV airings before their bubblegum bubble burst. Then things started happening: Original guitarist Jason Falkner went solo, and worked with Air. Keyboardist Roger Manning Jr. recorded and toured with Beck, and still does sessions with hipsters aplenty. Drummer-singer Andy Sturmer's credits showed up in the strangest places (Japan, Sweden, an Ozzy album). Last year, Jellyfish were feted with a four-disc box—pretty cool for an overlooked band who'd released only two CDs.

The most successful Jellyfish alumni venture is Sturmer's unlikely alliance with Puffy, or Puffy AmiYumi, as the duo is known in our land of P. Diddy. They're two indie-type Japanese girls who were barely groomed but elaborately packaged into massive pop idols. At the height of their late-'90s popularity, Ami and Yumi even snagged their own TV show. "Godfather" of Puffy (that's what theycall him), Sturmer started producing, co-writing, and playing on Puffy hits and album tracks soon after their 1996 debut. On 2001's Spike, he authored "Love So Strong," Puffy's first attempt to court English speakers. With Nice, he oversees an entire album.

Both Jellyfish and Puffy are known for tossing off elaborate homages to '60s and '70s studio masterworks with scary accuracy. But rather than presenting a Village People-esque disco number here, a Who-ish anthem there, and ELO-like ditties in between like previous albums, Nice lets those beloved references briefly surface, but swirls them together in a celebration of all pop music, all at once. Although Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura's vocal skills have matured, they still sound as if they're at the karaoke bar, blending together into one voice: that of The Fan. They're the embodiment of punk's DIY principle set to J-pop's deep respect for professionalism and chops—not to mention a tune worth practicing yourself, via the instrumental version that comes with nearly every Japanese CD single. The pair is pomo/self-reflexive/meta-meta to the max, but all their brainy super-cuteness wouldn't matter if they and their buds didn't rock. Sturmer's hook-knack and multi-instrumental capabilities complement his soul sisters' enthusiasm, and the result is PuffyJelly—sweet and chewy like mochi.

 
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