Sometime it’s hell keeping a secret! Especially one you’d prefer to shout from the rooftops! In the case of the group Fluid Japan, I first encountered their member Todd Lewis [vox, synth, bass, drum programming] when he had played bass and string synth on Jan Linton’s excellent “Melatonin” single of 2022. I’m a big fan of Linton’s music, so after mentioning Lewis in my review, he used the contact form to talk up his return to active duty with Fluid Japan; a combo who had released a single CD in Japan 22 years ago, but were now based in the US and making music anew.
Mr. Lewis sent along some frankly astonishing music that is now finally mixed and mastered for release on Bandcamp today and this music decidedly presses all of my critical buttons. Hard. They now have a trio of songs for download in their Bandcamp store and I have to ask, is it too early in the year to hand out single of the year awards, because after hearing “Afterlife,” everyone else might have to go home.
It began with portentous synths reminiscent of those on Cabaret Voltaire’s “Automotivation.” Then a screaming came across the sky as the drums faded up. Laying the groundwork for bass player Walt Wistrand’s [bass, guitar, synth, drum programming] fluid and muscular bass lines to push us off the starting block and into the wild. This track was shaping up to be the sort of dronetrancefunk that I’d not heard since the days when Derek Forbes was leading Simple Minds by the nose!
In all candor, it staked out an exciting middle ground between the vibe to be found in “Sons + Fascination” and “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84].” A glorious hybrid synthesis of the varied peaks to be found in the early Simple Minds canon. With the backing vocals by Heather Heimbuch enmeshing skillfully with the placid, measured lead vocals of Todd Lewis.
The glassy, cinematic synths and fractalized cymbals posited a very widescreen cinematic energy that could last for days as this leviathan of a song belied its size while gliding gracefully towards the far horizon. When the Fairlight samples manifested, bringing an Art Of Noise energy to the proceedings, I thought that this track couldn’t get more perfect. Then Wistrand’s guitar solo made me a liar, and then his rhythm guitar, chopping obliquely into the melody, shamed me further. It was 8:45 of sensual, technological bliss. And it could have lasted a full album side. Listen.
The band have two further “B-sides” showing different facets of their vibe. “All Of His Reactions” was primarily Walt Wistrand [with Lewis and Celine LW on backing vocals] exploring a mixture of synths and drum machine with vocal samples for a vibe similar to what Bill Nelson was exploring in his Orchestra Arcana albums of the mid-80s. Only this sounded even richer. I suspect that Mr. Wistrand spent more time considering and polishing the results here than the hasty and impatient Nelson did!
A final instrumental track, “Descent Of The Valkyrie,” rounded out the initial trio of offerings with the sort of instrumental track that used to be such a pleasure on China Crisis B-sides. With the exception that the lusher environs of the Fluid Japan ethos had developed the sound and arrangement further than those B-sides that Gary Daly worked out solo on his gear. Here the results were solely down to Lewis, working alone. The lack of rhythm programming relied on piano and synths instead to carry the tempo. Impossibly lush choral patches navigated between the glassy and reverberant piano chords. Making of this song the sound of breath being held in rapture.
Fluid Japan members apart show here they can craft impressive material, but it is when Lewis and Wistrand unite as on “Afterlife,” that they ascend to ever higher plateaus of achievement. Suitably, the band have turned to the ear of Paul Gomersall to master this material for maximum impact. Mr. Gomersall has a CV of impeccable engineering credits including many Monastic favorites such as Cabaret Voltaire, Propaganda, Thomas Dolby, Echo + The Bunnymen, and Billie Ray Martin. So this sounds absolutely top drawer. I am now twisting in the wind until I can get a full album of this material on the silver disc! At the very least, I’m told that a follow up single [“You Shut Down”] is being prepped for a timely follow up to this initial salvo. If you also yearn for sophisticated, melodic music that reaches the sort of heights that were more common 30-40 years ago, then get thee hence to Fluid Japan’s Bandcamp store. These delights are yours at any price you pick. [hint: be generous – the karma could badly hurt otherwise]
Are we absolutely certain that this isn’t some heretofore unknown 80s production?! This really pushes all the right buttons. Fine, fine stuff!
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Big Mark – Actually, this is a re-recording of a production that was released in Japan on a compilation in 1998. It was released in a nine minute version two years later. But trust me, I’ve heard all three versions and they have managed to up their game in 2023! They left the sonic traits intact, but they actually managed to amplify them with the benefit of age and hindsight. How often does that happen?
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You, Sir, are a saint. Thanks so much for the kind and utterly wonderful review!
Todd Lewis – I’m no saint. I’m merely a Monk. But please don’t make us wait too long for an album, eh?
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