Have you ever heard of Fishmans? If not, that’s okay, because you’re here. I’m sharing their most incredible album. Uchu Nippon Setagaya is pure dub nirvana from Japan.
As a true believer in dub in all its permutations, I wholeheartedly consider this one of the best examples of the genre. Fishmans lit a constellation spanning the night sky from Kingston and Tokyo, mixing lush electronics, deep, wobbly bass lines, and the utterly distinct, androgynous vocals of lead singer Shinji Sato. Their final album may be the purest expression of this unmistakable sound.
Witness the coalescence of their finest single, Weather Report, named after one of the greatest jazz fusion bands of all time:
The rest of the album is flush with reverb-drenched trumpets, electric violin, breakbeats, and some of the most sublime bass rhythms I’ve ever heard. I feel shades of dub, dreampop, and festival-worthy psychedelia. Song by song, I can pick out familiar elements that strike me truest, trying to piece together exactly why this music sounds like nothing else. Yet somehow the cumulative effect is beyond my ken.
With Sato’s alien vocals, these songs reach heavenward like Sigur Rós at their peak. They lock into deep grooves like a prime King Tubby cut. They turn left and veer off into space without warning. It’s a surprise from every angle, and it works perfectly. There are few bands out there as cohesively singular as Fishmans.
I’m including the full stream of the album here because some kind soul has put it on youtube. If you want to get right to the best deep cut, the heart of the album, skip to 28:50. Otherwise, just hit play and feel yourself slide for an hour.
Edit: that stream is down but here’s the full album anyway:
00:00 Pokka Pokka
04:04 Weather Report
12:46 うしろ姿 (Ushiro Sugata)
17:59 In The Flight
23:35 Magic Love
28:32 バックビートにのっかって (Back Beat Ni Nokkatte)
36:59 Walking In The Rhythm
The band began in 1987 and centered on the trio of Kin-ichi Motegi on drums and samplers, Yuzuru Kashiwabar commanding the bass, and Sato playing guitar and trumpet, in addition to singing. Their final album was released in 1997, one year before the band played their final show. Sadly, this was a choice of fate rather than the band, as Sato died of a lifelong heart condition just a few months later.
As a document of Fishmans at its peak, playing loose and fun yet expertly composed, Uchu Nippon Setagaya works as a perfect epitaph for those, like me, who discovered the band posthumously. Somehow almost a decade since I first heard these guys, I’m finally realizing how essential their sound is to my musical world.
This band is a perfect illustration of why no one should let a streaming service become their sole resource for music: you won’t be able to find Fishmans on Spotify. In fact, the only copies of this album, also known as 宇宙 日本 世田谷, are going for $40 and up on Discogs. I fantasize about the idea of owning it on vinyl, but resign myself to the fact that it’s not likely to happen. Then again, if enough interest materializes, you never know what’s possible with a long gone band’s work.