Long Season is an experience like no other. There hasn't been an album that I've heard that just sounds so perfect in the way it keys in with its repetitive yet structural buildups and themes, as well as its creative way of keeping the album uplifting but not overdoing it. The 98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare version of Long Season is the primary successor to the album itself, and proves that the band could go in many directions with the atmosphere they create.
Fishmans was a Japanese band formed in 1987, starting with vocalist, trumpet player, and lead guitarist Shinji Sato, drummer and backing vocalist Kin-Ichi Motegi, bassist Yuzuru Kashiwabara, keyboardist Hakase-Sun, and guitarist and backing vocalist Kensuke Ojima. Yuzuru would join the band however close to a year after the band's formation. Fishmans had performed since 1988 at unknown locations, although a few bootlegs of some have been released. It wasn't until 1991 where the band had released their debut album, Chappie Don't Cry, which is comprised of dub and pop reggae, including elements of ska and shibuya-kei. Following the release of King Master George, their second album, released a year after Chappie Don't Cry, the band attempted to experiment with different sounds but still kept with their dub influence. This is one of the earliest examples of their approach to neo-psychedelia. As the band released Orange in 1994 however, they took a more upbeat and funk rock turn with their sound, releasing "Melody" as one of their main singles. However, Kensuke and Hakase didn’t appreciate where the band’s sound was heading toward, causing Kensuke to leave the band after the release of Orange, and Hakase to leave some time after the release of their live album, Oh! Mountain. The remaining trio would recruit Honzi, longtime contributor to the band and Michigo "Darts" Sekiguchi, who would agree to permanently accompany Fishmans as a supporting guitarist till their final concert.
The band would release possibly their most recognizable single, Night Cruising, on November 25th, 1995. It was a welcoming shift towards dream pop and trip hop, and served as an introduction to the band's next album, Kuuchuu Camp (空中キャンプ) in 1996. Shinji and producer ZAK would work with each other occasionally through their latter half of their career, experimenting with new sounds and themes for their music. This was one of their first approaches to dream pop, as the production and music were more stripped down to their most basic elements, creating a simple, yet evocative output. The band would release their now acclaimed album, Long Season in 1996, which consists of a 35-minute song based on the single Season released a month before hand. A tour had followed after the release of the album, and each performance was a different rendition of the song, as the band had the idea to perform the entire album with many structural changes so that each performance would contrast from each other. Since its release, the album has become the most recognizable by the band amongst underground music communities for its lucid experimentation and unique structure. Their final studio album, Uchu Nippon Setagaya (宇宙 日本 世田谷), released in 1997, took a more ambient pop direction, compared to their previous LPs, and the lyrical themes were based off personal everyday life while still retaining a pretty universal worldview that inspired the title of the record.
Fishmans had then released a 13-minute single titled Yurameki in the Air (ゆらめき in the Air) which takes the same sonic style that Uchu Nippon Setagaya had, although it isn't found on any studio album of theirs. Around the time of its release, Yuzuru had expressed disinterest of continuing with Fishmans, electing to leaving the band the following year. The band had organized the Man's Farewell Tour to grant their bassist a last hurrah with the group. Two back-to-back shows concluding the tour were done on December 27th and the other on the 28th, both at the Akasaka BLITZ venue in Minato in 1998.
Unfortunately, the second of those shows would be their final concert. They played most of their widely-acclaimed songs from each of their seven albums, including Yurameki in the Air and concluding with a full 41-minute performance of Long Season. The concert, entitled 98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare and released in September 1999, is considered by many to be legendary, as the band had shown how they've progressed through their early dub sound to the atmospheric dream pop textures that have developed ever since their formation. It’s not only considered to be their best efforts in their discography, but some also say that it’s the most emotionally driven given the context surrounding the concert. Although this concert was originally intended to be Yuzuru's tribute as he was departing from the band, Shinji Sato would pass away suddenly on March 15th, 1999, three months after the concert due to heart complications he had suffered since birth. Since then, the concert is considered to be their swan song, and due to the death of their main songwriter and vocalist, the band decided not to work on any new releases. Honzi would pass away in 2007 after a long struggle with cancer, causing her to lose her iconic hair before her death. Up until that point, the remaining members, Kin-Ichi, Yuzuru, and Honzi have kept the band striving on with the past members, as well as many other contributors to perform as Fishmans in tribute to the band and both Shinji and Honzi.
Long Season begins with a guitar lead-in, followed by a bass riff. After which a synth melody comes into play for eight measures, Kin-Ichi gets the song up on its feet with a small fill, after which, the iconic piano riff starts playing. Once the song goes into its main standing point, the piano riff loops in the back as the guitar comes into play, following with the rhythmic-steady bass. As the next set of keyboard whirs, the drums come back in with a simple, tame rhythm while Shinji pleasantly voices the first verse of the song.
A lyric can be heard during the course of the song’s development in which it portrays itself in varying ways:
"Get round in the season"
This lyric is repeated throughout the song after its first appearance, and the chanting brings in more of the song’s structure as it makes the composition more upbeat while Shinji clears over chanting with his bittersweet, but soothing voice. Another chant is introduced later in the song, milder yet different enough:
"Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba"
"Ba ba ba ba ba ba"
"Ba ba ba ba"
While it looks ridiculous written out, the context and performance of these vocals create a space-like tone for the song and capture the aquatic feeling the album paints with its use of texture of atmosphere. Even with the song being in a calmer state in the mid-section, it still expresses emotion with its minimalism. As the song starts to reach its climax, every member releases their level of tension built over the course of the whole song, ending with what the band wanted to experience together for the final time as a trio, their last hurrah.
Not everything is explained here as I don’t want to spoil the entire song for everyone, so it’s really up to you to endure the insight and impression that defines the song.
Fishmans and Long Season have made an impact in the underground music community as more people were discovering them through popular music sites. One of the most prime examples is the band’s heavy influence on RateYourMusic.com (RYM), which ranks the album as one of the greatest albums of its year and within the neo-psych and dream pop genres. Also, 98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare, which features the live version of Long Season, ranks incredibly high, among the top 100 albums of all time on RYM. For comparison, even legendary recordings such as John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things or Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, rank lower on the list.
Although Long Season and Fishmans did not make any critical impact to a western audience, considering that they were a fairly popular band in Japan but hardly internationally, their songs rarely use any English, and that the band had already stopped recording two decades ago, they did influence a wide range of listeners in underground music communities and gained a welcome surge of popularity.
I think Shinji would’ve been proud.
Rest in Peace:
Shinji Sato (February 16, 1966 - March 15, 1999)
Honzi (??? - September 27, 2007)
RB2 and Phase Shift versions also available below!
Fixed phrase error in vocals (4/14/19 10:21 PM)
Fixed clashing practice sections and a few misaligned drum notes. (4/16/19 7:17 AM)