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 passed away at the age of 33 in 1999. In their time, the band released seven albums before leaving off on Uchū Nippon Setagaya (or Space Japan Setagaya) in 1997 and one 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 revisited a selection of the band’s music, releasing “In the Air” as the second single off 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, dream state. The first version Pine Barons singer Keith Abrams remembers hearing was Fishmans’ live performance off the band’s third live album Otokotachi no Wakare and says the song appeared to be “from this sort of cosmic meditative intro, like leaving the earth behind as you enter the upper atmosphere and out comes this creeping hypnotic pulse with the bass and drums.”
Running 9 minutes 15 seconds to Fishman’s original epic 13-minute-plus version, Pine Barons were precise in capturing the essence of the song with their own experimental arrangement and subtle diversions. The progression of the original song, adds Abrams, was simplistic, yet ahead of its time.
“It blew me away,” he says. “As the last Fishmans single to be released in 1998, it was an important one to include on this album. I wanted to marry the essence of the live version with the studio version, with a slight deviation from the structure. When it feels like it might come to an end, it sort of blasts off into this 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 stage, I Love Fish is the perfect continuation for the Philly rockers, an homage to a band that didn’t get much recognition while they were around, yet 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,” said Abrams of his instant connection to Sato’s vocals. “It confirms to me the genuine beauty of that voice and how universal music truly is.”
Abrams shared more on the Fishmans albums and their last song and how being in Philly informed the making of I Love Fish.
American Songwriter: Describe that instant connection to Fishmans.
Keith Abrams: I fell in love with the music of Fishmans, and I wanted to experience these songs on a deeper, more personal level. I believe they’re an important part of music that has been overlooked, and that 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 to it, both in the lyrics and the way it moves. I get a strong emotional response when I listen to it. I think about loneliness and the loss of a person that never really goes away, but keeps on living inside a memory. It was the last song that was released while Shinji Sato was alive, and I felt it was an important song to include on this album.
I can only hope that someone feels something from it. Perhaps something similar to what I felt, but feeling anything is just fine.
AS: How has Philly influenced the music you’re making, and how did it impact 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 have always sort of felt like we never quite fit in with any particular music scene, it always felt like we were doing our own thing, more or less. I think that’s one of the many reasons why we were so drawn to Fishmans, being so unique, or maybe even oddly specific, and not quite committing themselves to any one genre. Pine Barons can very much relate to that sentiment.
AS: The connection to Fishmans is palpable. Are they going to be part of Pine Barons, in some way, moving forward?
KA: I’m sure Fishmans will continue to influence our music in many ways—some consciously, some subconsciously—and help inform whatever direction we decide to go next. I also feel that in some ways, the influence has been there all along.
I Love Fish Track List:
1. Oh Slime
4. Pokka Pokka
5. Baby Blue
7. Smilin’ Days, Summer Holiday
8. ゆらめき In The Air
9. Long Season
Photo: Alex Beebe