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Discovolante's Best of: 1991 (Japan Edition)

From the beginning of the year to the end, via the Sputnik release calendar.
1Natural Calamity
Down in the Valley (The Field Music Vol. 1)


Soothing on an almost supernatural level, Natural Calamity made their debut in 1991 with the release of their first EP "Down in the Valley (The Field Music Vol. 1)". Coming out of absolutely nowhere and making a release this ingenious, enough to garner them some noise in the foreign music world, is impressive in of itself.
2Gerard
Irony of Fate


After a six year pause, Japanese prog icons Gerard return with the release of their third album "Irony of Fate". Largely considered to be one of their all-time best efforts, topped perhaps by only 1996's "Pendulum", the album is full of nail biting prog excitement one could rely on Gerard for. Spectacularly done stuff, and one of my personal favorites of theirs as well.
3Pizzicato Five
This Year's Girl


Shibuya-kei masterminds Pizzicato Five made their name known in a huge way, and is perhaps their most significant release on an international level. Boasted by the monstrous singles and cult favorites "Twiggy Twiggy" and "Baby Love Child", "This Year's Girl" is considered to be a major turning point in Shibuya-kei history, and unarguably one of the all-time finest albums from the subgenre.
4Buck-Tick
Kurutta Taiyou


Visual kei precursors and rock icons Buck-Tick finally hit their critical stride with the release of an album that is still considered by many to be their magnum opus: "Kurutta Taiyou". An industrial-goth rock hybrid with an irresistible futuristic aesthetic, "Kurutta Taiyou" was a surprising follow-up to the straightforward-yet-still great "Aku no Hana" that showed the sudden evolution of a band whose trademark would eventually be just that... evolution.
5The Pogo
Search Out!


Unsung punk heroes The Pogo would follow their rather lackluster album "1990" with "Search Out!", a return to the straightforward balls-out rowdy punk that they did so well. While not necessarily as great as their final album "Cock and Bull Tunes" and certainly not in the same realm as their defining 1989 self-titled debut, "Search Out!" still ends up being a welcome back-to-basics approach.
6Spitz
Spitz


Future alt-pop figureheads Spitz definitely did not have it easy. Originally a college post-punk band in the vein of many underground bands in late 80s Japan, they would eventually carve their own niche with their light alt-pop sound in 1990 with the independently released EP "Hibari no Kokoro", While it was an introduction to their sound which would be greatly fine tooled over the years, its bare production in particular made it suffer. In 1991, however, Spitz finally hit it big with the release of their major label debut, and first ever full length, which was self-titled. While it was a commercial flop, the album was essentially the official beginning of their gloriously melodic sound, which would go on to garner Spitz immense commercial and critical success throughout the decade, eventually establishing them as one of Japan's all-time great alt bands.
7Zard
Good-bye My Loneliness


On the exact opposite end of Spitz, Zard was a project that started out with impressive fanfare from the get-go, before further morphing into one of the country's dominant pop acts just a few years later. It all started with the release of the spectacular "Good-bye My Loneliness", an EP full of emotion and heartfelt wails from vocalist Izumi Sakai. Her songs would go on to help give a voice to Japan's youth, and the EP's somber, yet powerful sound was its earliest proof.
8Kumiko Yamashita
Joy For U


I've actually come very close to adding Kumiko Yamashita to a few of my other "best-of" lists, but she always got edged out. That was the case until she released the magnificent "Joy For U", an accumulating end result of over a decade in the business perfecting her craft. "Joy For U" has a far different tone than her previous albums. While before she had a sort of rock star approach to her music, this album showed her in a much more mature, down-to-earth way, spearheaded by the brilliantly mystical "Tonight (Hoshi no Furu You ni)", a track she did with her then husband Tomoyasu Hotei. "Joy For U" would prove to be Yamashita's biggest success, both commercially and critically, an an effort that she has yet to top.
9Lindberg
IV


Lindberg further dig their heels into the neck of Japanese pop superstardom with the release of their fourth album, "IV", which would be their biggest commercial success to date, as it topped the charts and became the seventh best selling album of the year. Rounded by well crafted pop tunes that was Lindberg's trademark at this point, it particularly boasted the iconic "Believe in Love", which would go on to become their unofficial anthem.
10Baku
Kikoeru ~Power of Dreams~


Pop punk pioneers Baku went beyond their already impressive level of fame with their classic "Kikoeru ~Power of Dreams~". Probably the first real pop punk album to enter the Oricon top 10, it's full of sweet bits of infectious light tracks. While they would end up splitting about a year after "Kikoeru" was released, Baku truly made music history in Japan.
11Kan
Yukkuri Furo ni Tsukaritai


Kan had some brushes with critical gold since the "best-of 1987" list, which he was a part of, including his fifth album "Yakyuu Senshu ga Yume Datta.", which would become his biggest commercial success ever, reaching number 2 on the Oricon charts. But despite that, none of those albums lived up to the same standard as "TV no Naka ni", which was his album I put in the "best-of 1987" list... until "Yukkuri Furo ni Tsukaritai" was released in 1991. Having similar success to his predecessor, it made up greatly in quality featuring some of his most dazzling pop compositions to date. While "TV no Naka ni" had a far less impressive production, "Yukkuri..." acts as a spiritual successor with its vastly better production and more easy-to-digest pop style. A glistening effort that would ultimately be Kan's final amazing effort yet.
12Fence of Defense
Digitaglam FOD VI


Establishing themselves as one of Japan's best solid rock groups of their era, Fence of Defense took a massive gamble in 1991 with the release of their sixth album "Digitaglam FOD VI", which infused elements of dance pop and electronica. Combined with Fence of Defense's badass cutting rock sound, you get this brilliant effort which would be by-far their most ambitious to date. An album so spectacular, it is their only one to rival their practically immaculate debut from 1987.
13TM Network
Expo


One of Japan's most imaginative and cutting edge bands of the 80s, TM Network, managed to cross over in a massive way into the new decade with the conceptual "Expo". Exploring new sounds which venture deep into dance-club territory, it is a grandiose album which bridged the gap of urbanized dance-pop and Japanese pop. All-in-all, "Expo" is probably their greatest album of the bunch, and it has since its release been highly revered for being a few cuts above what the Japanese mainstream had. One of the most acclaimed pop albums in Japanese music of the decade for damn good reason.
14Chage and Aska
Tree


Already considered to be one of Japan's biggest musical acts bar-none, it seemed that Chage and Aska were at the top of their game. In 1991, however, Chage and Aska released their defining moment with "Tree", an album that was so massive, its success cannot be understated. Becoming their first (and only) original album to sell not only over a million copies, but over TWO million copies, it is full of warm, cozy adult contemporary pop that the guys did oh so well. It particularly contains their biggest single of all time "Say Yes", which itself sold over 2 million copies. A monumental smash that put Chage and Aska from chart toppers to bonafied music gods in their home country.
15Chara
Sweet


Every pop superstar has their beginnings. Sometimes it's embarrassingly bad, sometimes it's damn good. Chara's 1991 debut "Sweet" happens to fall into the latter category. Silky smooth tracks that almost border on new jack swing and freestyle at times, "Sweet" is one of Japan's most Westernized pop efforts with its huge influence from R&B. Granted it hasn't aged well, and neither has its influences, but goddamn if it isn't a blast to listen to.
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