Deadline Stress is a Force for Good on Fishmans’ Long Season

Album Review

James Madonia '24, Author


I’m not great at managing my deadlines. More often than not, I’ve found myself awake at ungodly hours of the night, my blood being mostly caffeine, working on a paper or project less than a few hours before its due date – something I’m sure you’ve done at least once. Oddly enough, I find that the pressure, stress, and the time of night (well, technically, morning) help me produce better-quality work than its daytime-produced counterparts. People always tell me it’s unhealthy, but I can’t seem to break the habit – and I’m not alone. Japanese dream-pop and neo-psychedelia band Fishmans found themselves in the same predicament in 1996, when they were contractually obligated to release a handful of albums by the end of the decade. They released a few singles that year, one of which was called Season. It’s 5 minutes long and features their standard instrumentation in addition to some tame experimentation with sampling and reverb. While its original version never ended up appearing on any of their studio albums, Season was a glimpse of what was to come. 

They started messing around with Season, building off it and its motifs, polishing it, making it much more psychedelic and experimental. Originally just a pet project never meant to leave the studio, the new version of Season got good. Like, really good. Fishmans harnessed the stress of time and their contract with Polydor Records to produce what is now Long Season, a 35-minute prog/ambient/dream-pop masterpiece. Long Season was ultimately released as a single-track album in October of 1996 to critical acclaim in Japan. It goes without saying Long Season is unlike any other song (with the exception of “Impossible Soul” by Sufjan Stevens, but that’s for a future review). It’s composed like a classical work, with variations on a repeating motif as well as five distinct movements. It begins in a minimalistic fashion, with a repeating piano arpeggio and a bass line. It builds to a more energetic, “pop” sound (with groovy drumming) which paves the way for the very experimental middle section. Fishmans experiments with sampling, innovative mixing, and tasteful synthesizer as well as reverb here (not to mention the drumming! The funky groovy noisy drumming!!!). Finally the song returns to its rock-ish sound with a sing-along-able vocal part. The piano stays with the listener for most of the journey. While being annoyingly repetitive at times, it also serves to hold the listener’s hand at other points – to ground you as you transition from one movement to the next.

Long Season is one of three groundbreaking albums Fishmans released from 1996 to 1999. I’ll save the others for a future review, but these three (known as the Setagaya Trilogy) catapulted Fishmans into immense popularity in Japan as well as within more niche and open-minded indie music listeners in the United States. The live version of Long Season, featured in their live album entitled 98.12.28 男達の別れ, is considered by some to be the greatest contemporary song ever. It adds 10 minutes, totaling 45 minutes long. And, while I have trouble saying anything is definitively the best, it IS really good. For your first listen, though, stick with the studio version. Go with its ebb and flow as it takes you on a musical journey.