I love the fall. It’s not here yet, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m a big fan of the seasons changing in general: the warm summer overtaking dewy, green spring; the fall cooling off the summer heat; the winter covering the trees and grass in a blanket of snow; and the spring guiding the cold away. I like leaves falling and regrowing, and snow falling and melting. Nature’s the shit, man. Don’t you love it?
This record reminds me of those changing times, in both its sound and the value it has to me. Fishmans, if you aren’t aware, were at one point a Japanese band, fusing dub(/reggae) and “dream pop” (whatever the hell that means; no one can explain it to me), into a neat blend of fun, summery pop. Not terribly complex, but unpretentious in its goals, and mostly successful. Also worth noting is their 1999 live album OTOKATACHI NO WAKARE, which is one of the best live albums ever. And this here is their best studio album; their warmest, their smartest, their most tuneful, their most daring, and their most atmospheric. It sounds exactly like the cover looks: a bunch of friends walking through the woods, seeing the beauty of nature and enjoying the sort of peace you get in a place so full of life. I spin it pretty often, as you can tell, especially during spring and fall. Seasons changing.
On that note, I want to have a serious sit-down with the person who produced this album. Like, why is the bass so quiet at the beginning? That’s a killer riff, and you just let it hang around in the background? Actually for the whole piece the bass could be upped; there’s some great work here from bassist Yuzuru Kashiwabara that isn’t talked about nearly enough (because it’s so quiet, methinks). Additional problems: the way the drums fade out around the eight minute mark is a little jarring, and so is their subsequent fade back in and then instantly back out only seconds from the end of the first part; those lo-fi, distorted drums in Part 3; and the short a capella section that begins Part 5: good ideas, needed to be executed better. And since this is an Ambitious Album from a band not known for Ambitious Albums, naturally this gets given a bit too much praise by the fans because it’s so different from their other work; technically it’s a single piece stretching 35 minutes, but between parts 3 and 4 there’s a pretty obvious break. Like I said, not everything works, but it’s okay to acknowledge that.
Part 3, alas, is the weakest section of the album. It’s also the most “out there” part (going back to the unsuccessful experiments), between the water drop sound effects, the frantic drumming, what sounds like a strung wire being struck, and other odd noises. Unfortunately it’s too long, and while it fits the vibe the band went for, it still feels a bit out of place, like the band were going for something really strange in the middle to break up the prettier, more melodic sections of groovy pop. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much more than stop the build the album had up until the end of Part 2. The best stuff here, then, is very obviously located in Parts 1, 2, 4, and 5, and there’s a lot to choose from, so go ahead and dig: how the drum rolls in at 2:25, distant one moment, and then the cymbal crashes loudly and suddenly and the groove locks in place, and the strange ambiance running through the opening section before the first verse, slipping in and out of focus (sounds like a jet engine mixed with guitar feedback); the funky guitar licks a little less than halfway through Part 2, and the joyous wordless singing that accompanies it; the similar jangley chords that appear in Part 5, before breaking into a triumphant guitar solo, and that same song’s delightful synth at 2:11; the lo-fi acoustic at the beginning of Part 4, just three chords (I can play that!), and then the whistling at 1:50 that sounds like a bird call in the woods on the cover; even Part 3’s frantic drums give it a sense of motion for a while, as the dissonant chords pluck away behind it and the airy synths and water drops give a sense of peace; and finally, the fucking bass. God damn. I know I already mentioned Yuzuru Kashiwabara before, but guy needs to take a bow, seriously. His grooves keep all these gorgeous melodies in place. And HOLY SHIT I FORGOT TO MENTION THE MELODIES! There’s that faraway keyboard at 1:45, the guitar lick starting at the 2:26 mark, the violin at 5:36, the accordion (!) at 5:38… shit, and that’s just Part 1. Absolutely LOVELY. LOVELY. DAMMIT.
The album actually compares nicely to a Boredoms album, Vision Creation Newsun, that would be released just three years later; they’re both one long piece, experimental, very atmospheric, spacey, groovy, eclectic, summery, and Japanese. And they can both be summed up by a rather excellent quote by this gentleman: “So yeah, good album. But it was a great album when it was called Future Days.”
I’ve gone back and forth all night, trying to figure out what score this deserves. A B+ feels like I’m underrating an album I like a whole lot; an A- feels like I’m overrating something that’s deeply and obviously flawed. All things considering, this probably deserves the B+ I’m giving it, and maybe I’ll even give it an A- later, but I want to be incredibly clear that despite all its flaws, I do love it. This album is everything you need when the world is changing and you just want to keep up; the seasons will be constant. Be happy. Get ’round in the season.