Formed in Tokyo in 1987, psychedelic pop band Fishmans were known for their song “Night Cruising” and the distinct upper register of vocalist Shinji Sato, who died aged 33 in 1999. In their time, the band released seven albums. before heading back to Uchu Nippon Setagaya (Where Space Japan Setagaya) in 1997 and a final single together “ゆらめき” (“In the Air”), released in 1998.
Captivated by the story behind the band and their last song nearly 25 years ago, Philadelphia art rockers Pine Barons have revisited a selection of the band’s music, releasing “In the Air” as the second single from their upcoming Fishmans cover album I love fish (Grind Select), out July 8.
Performed in English by Pine Barons, the track retains its original essence of the song, less trip-hop, and enters a more lo-fi dreamlike state. The first version Pine Barons singer Keith Abrams remembers hearing was Fishmans’ live performance on the band’s third live album. Otokotachi no Wakare and said the song seemed to be “of this kind of cosmic meditative intro, like leaving the earth behind as you step into the upper atmosphere and that creeping hypnotic pulse comes out with the bass and drums”.
Running 9 minutes 15 seconds over Fishman’s epic 13+ minute version, Pine Barons were precise in capturing the essence of the song with their own experimental arrangement and subtle twists. The progression of the original song, adds Abrams, was simplistic, but ahead of its time.
“It blew my mind,” he says. “As the last single from Fishmans to be released in 1998, it was an important element to include on this album. I wanted to marry the essence of the live version with the studio version, with a slight departure from the structure When it feels like it might end, it flies off into that other realm where you might forget you’re listening to the same song.
For Pine Barons, who released their second album Mirage on the meadow in 2020, which led Abrams to discover Fishmans during the mixing phase, I love fish is the perfect continuation for the Philadelphia rockers, a tribute to a band that didn’t achieve much recognition while they were there, but were doing something beyond the peripherals of their contemporaries at the time.
“Without even knowing what the lyrics were, I felt such a strong connection to the voice that sang them,” Abrams said of his instant connection to Sato’s voice. “It confirms to me the true beauty of this voice and how truly universal the music really is.”
Abrams shared more about Fishmans albums and their latest song and how being in Philadelphia informed the making of I love fish.
American songwriter: Describe that instant connection with Fishmans.
Keith Abrams: I fell in love with the music of Fishmans and wanted to experience those songs on a deeper, more personal level. I believe they are an important part of music that has been overlooked, and more people should be aware of the wonderful world of Fishmans.
AS: What does “In the Air” mean to you personally, and what do you hope listeners can take away from this single?
KA: “‘ゆらめき In the Air’ has a haunting quality, both in the lyrics and the way it moves. I get a strong emotional reaction when I listen to it. I think of loneliness and the loss of a someone who never really goes away, but lives on in a memory. This was the last song released during Shinji Sato’s lifetime, and I thought it was an important song to include in this album.
I can only hope someone feels something about it. Maybe something similar to what I felt, but feeling anything is fine.
AS: How has Philly influenced the music you make, and what impact has that had I love fish?
KA: I think Philly has definitely shaped us as musicians, being surrounded by so many talented people. At the same time, we always felt like we never fit into any particular music scene, we always felt like we were doing our own thing, more or less. I think that’s one of the many reasons we were so drawn to Fishmans, being so unique, or maybe even weirdly specific, and not really committing to any particular genre. Pine Barons can understand this sentiment very well.
AS: The connection with Fishmans is palpable. Will they be part of Pine Barons, somehow, in the future?
KA: I’m sure Fishmans will continue to influence our music in many ways, some consciously, some unconsciously, and help inform the direction we decide to go next. I also feel like in some ways the influence has always been there.
I like the fish track list:
1. Oh Slime
4. Pokka Pokka
5. Baby Blue
7. Happy days, summer vacation
8. ゆらめき In the air
9. Long Season
Photo: Alex Beebe