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Discovolante's Best of: 1997 (Japan Edition)

From the beginning of the year to the end, via the Sputnik release calendar.
1Guniw Tools
Other Goose

Visual kei arthouse weirdos Guniw Tools unknowingly released their greatest effort with "Other Goose", an album that will go down in history as one of the most animated and wacky albums in visual kei history. Changing paces and song styles track-to-track at a seemingly random pace at some points, it can be quite dizzying at first listen. But when it sinks in, "Other Goose" will likely leave you in adoration of the enlighteningly deranged and absolutely creative Guniw Tools.
2The Yellow Monkey

Leaders of the 90s glam explosion The Yellow Monkey did a bold move in 1997 with their seventh full length, "Sicks" (get it?), producing a top-of-the-line rock opera in the vein of Queen, with a ton of surprising variety thrown in the mix. A risky move from a mere glam band that was on their way up, "Sicks" ended up being not just a big commercial success (going platinum), but it also is widely regarded today as their magnum opus.
3Koshi Inaba

Almost a decade after the release of B'z guitarist Tak Matsumoto's amazing solo album "Thousand Wave", B'z frontman Koshi Inaba released his first solo album "Magma" to ginormous commercial and critical success. Having a lot more of a soulful and poppy sound than any of his material with B'z, Inaba's dive into the world of pop produced an effort that was not only heartfelt, but awe-inspiring at times.
Twilight City

Speaking of heartfelt and awe-inspiring, in February of 1997, Timeslip (at this point known by their original alias of Timeslip-Rendezvous) released their first EP "Twilight City", which is 7 tracks (intro not included) of pure magic. Vulnerable and yet simultaneously beaming with carefreeness, "Twilight City" is quite possibly one of the greatest Japanese pop albums ever, with the lead single "Hari ni Kakatta Sakana ga Jiyuu wo Motomeru You ni" being a shoe-in for one of the all-time greatest Japanese pop tracks.
Faces Places

Not comfortable with covering the same electropop ground as on their debut, Globe made their return with "Faces Places", their second album and one that solidified their place in Japanese pop history. With "Faces Places", the trio experiment far beyond the electropop realm, inputting elements of alternative rock and R&B. Having two singles that sold over a million each, "Faces Places" still didn't sell as much overall as their predecessor, but still selling over 3 million copies, the album features Globe going in a slightly unconventional path, which they would just wander down further and further.
6Bonnie Pink
Heaven's Kitchen

Bonnie Pink followed her 1995 debut "Blue Jam" with one of many image reworks, this time being her best in her career. In 1997, she returned and released her sophomoric effort "Heaven's Kitchen", a scorching alt rock album that is bathed in bittersweet blues. Produced by legendary Swedish producer Tore Johansson, this is the album that showed off Bonnie Pink to the Japanese masses at large and made her one of the main figures of the rising female alt-pop boom in her country, a subgenre that would only expand throughout the next few years.
7Scudelia Electro
Scudelia Electro

In 1996, after the split of popular Shibuya-kei duo Spiral Life, one-half of the duo, Koji Kurumatani, instantly went on to start a solo career as Air, while the other half, Shokichi Ishida, took a bit longer to get going with his next project. In June of 1997, however, his new project, Scudelia Electro, would finally release its first album. That album is a dizzying display of the highest-quality songwriting with some of the most effective earworm melodies Japanese music has ever spawned, alongside stupendous production and. Scudelia Electro would never match Air's success, and this album was no exception, with the Air project already two albums deep by this time, with one of those albums, "Wear Off", breaking the Oricon top 10, a feat Scudelia Electro would never match. Despite that, this one album quite frankly trumps any Air release in terms of sheer listenability. The star power is real with this one.
8Kenji Sawada
Thermostat na Natsu

The 1990s were not kind to Kenji Sawada, an artist that was a staple in music from the 1960s through the early 80s. Beginning in 1984, however, Sawada's releases varied greatly in quality, with sales starting to really slip in with his 1987 album "Kokuhaku -Confession-" barely reaching the Oricon top 50, a commercial far-cry from just four years before. By 1997, Sawada was not having any commercial success, although in that bleakness came "Thermostat na Natsu", his most solid album since 1992's "Beautiful World". It perfectly reinvents him for the end-half of the 1990s with a good amount of his classic glam flare in tact. While it may not have been obvious to the masses at large, Kenji Sawada released one of the greatest albums of his very lengthy career. It's a goddamn shame how much it was ignored.

In 1997, visual kei juggernauts Luna Sea went on a hiatus, during which each of the members embarked on a solo career. While it's up to personal preference as to who they prefer since each of the members' solo works are distinctly different from each other's, my vote goes to "Pyromania", the debut solo album of Luna Sea bassist J. There's a strong influence from western alternative rock for sure, but with J's approach, donned with a badass no-shit-taking attitude, he makes it work very well. Very strange indeed when you consider this is one-fifths of who brought you "Eden".
Little Playmate

Kemuri have gone down in Japanese music history as one of the greatest skacore bands the country has ever produced, and it all started with their debut "Little Playmate" which garnered little attention upon its initial release but has since been revered as one of the best Japanese skacore albums of the decade. At 14 tracks long with the longest one being just over 4 minutes (the only one on here that is near that long), it is primarily fast paced in-your-face skacore with very little frills. Definitely an album worthy of its reputation.
Ichibu Fubaku

As aggressive as a gang of pissed off giant hornets, Nunchaku are one of the greatest bands of the Japanese hardcore scene. With each of their albums being killer in their own right, it's generally thought that their swan song "Ichibu Fubaku" is their best. Having a noticeably higher budget than their previous two and home to some of their most concise tracks in their catalog, "Ichibu Fubaku" is a half-hour brutal musical slugfest.
Junior Sweet

1997 was truly the year of reinventions in Japanese music, as budding pop singer Chara also endured a career rebirth of sorts that year. Coming close several times to crossing over into superstardom, it wasn't until 1996 when she starred in the blockbuster film Swallowtail that the road barrier between her and reaching astronomical heights of fame was cleared. In the wake of the career-livening success of Swallowtail, Chara released "Junior Sweet", her fifth album and first under her name in three years (not counting her one-off project The Yen Town Band, which was based on Swallowtail), which was not only a massive evolution in her sound, but was also her biggest commercial achievement to date, topping the Oricon charts and selling over a million copies. While she wasn't necessarily afraid to explore uncommon elements of pop before, "Junior Sweet" reveled in curiosity, an album drenched in ambition and drive. A multidimensional masterpiece that firmly secured Chara's legacy.
13La'cryma Christi
Sculpture of Time

La'cryma Christi went from up-and-comers in the everchanging visual kei landscape to one of the most dominant bands of their era with the release of "Sculpture of Time", their first full length release and largely regarded as their all-time best. Their sound is poppy, yet the band has all of the impressive technical chops and skills to wow any skeptic. At a quite literally perfect length of 10 tracks with each one being a homerun, there is no wonder whatsoever as to how "Sculpture of Time" has maintained its legacy so well.
14Dragon Ash

Not many artists or bands had a debut year quite like Dragon Ash. In 1997, they released two punk-inspired EP's and also released their much more vast full length debut, "Mustang!", later that year. What made it so good to me was its unabashed honesty from a late 90s Japanese youth point of view. It wasn't afraid to be crass, of course, as evidenced by the much more mellow than what you may think from the title "Cowboy Fuck!". Certainly not for everyone and with a mixed legacy today among their fanbase, "Mustang!" is an album that if you get it, you really... really get it.
15Miho Komatsu

Pop songstress Miho Komatsu took a page out of Zard's book in terms of building an enigmatic public image, but other than sharing the same label (which probably explains that strategy), that's where the comparisons end. Whereas Zard shines on heartfelt pop rock anthems, Miho Komatsu shines in the electropop field, releasing some of the best albums in that field with her most notable moment commercially and critically being her debut "Nazo". Other than the self-titled track which was famously used as an opening theme for Detective Conan, the album is home to several other jams, including the extremely overshadowed second single "Kagayakeru Hoshi". A stellar debut from one of the best end-of-century pop songwriters in the country.
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