By Adam Brill ’17
Mariah’s album Utakata No Hibi was basically unknown outside the local Japanese Underground when it was released in 1983 on the Better Days label. It only began to generate buzz in the late 2000’s, when DJ’s started to drop samples of it. Throughout its over 30 year history, Mariah’s album has gained a mythical status, and listening now, it’s not hard to see why. Beyond the fact that it hadn’t been in mainstream circulation until Palto Flats reissued it in 2015, Utakata No Hibi is weird. Describing music as weird probably doesn’t tell you much, because well shit, most experimental stuff is weird. But, Mariah’s album is truly hard to pin down. Part of the reason I chose to write about this album is because it’s so damn hard to describe. So here we go…
As soon as “Soko Kara”, Utakata No Hibi’s opening track, begins, it’s clear that this band’s got skills. Practically right off the bat, Mariah make use of some echoey polyrhythms, background ethereal wailing, ambient synths, and jazzy textures. All their musical experimentations are held together by a tight and driving percussion line that never gets old. On top of this rolling rhythm, the band drops hook after hook performed on countless different instruments. Some mysterious whispery vocals on top of the chanting, percussion, and hooks is a nice finishing touch to sew this track together as it speeds through a bizarre piano-ish solo.
Such is how the album rolls along. Different themes and instruments weave in and out as Mariah seem to have infinite textural tools at their disposal to create a truly unique listening experience. Whereas the first track is an intoxicating burner, tracks like “Shisen” and “Shinzo No Tobira” display the band’s talent for using their ambience to their advantage. “Shinzo” in particular is a high point on this album. It’s a meticulously crafted synthpop song with a twist. The song is anchored with percussion (that sounds like a djembe drum machine) layered directly atop a staccato bassline. The first section of the song doesn’t play too overtly with instrumental changes. This creates space for the band’s soloist to deliver an icy croon. The vocals are a nice touch and seem to radiate a unique type of effortless expression.
“Shisen” is another quieter use of texture. This time, the band show off a vibe-type effect played like a harp. By now, perhaps you’ve realized that I’m having a hard time pinning down exactly what these instruments are. It’s because I am. These sounds are so strange and hard to exactly identify. Mariah clearly takes influence from all sorts of genres from all over the world. This is what makes the album so unique. It posses the mysticism of a Sun City Girls record with the compositional chops of a Ryuichi Sakamoto track. The album has surely got to qualify as some sort of experimental something. It could be categorized as a jazz album some moments, synthpop others. This is the treat of hearing a band who have a single sound with the diverse talent to follow through on seemingly any direction they imagine. However, beneath all the experimentation lie poppy hooks reminiscent of a Brian Eno or even a Beach Boys track. You’ll wanna check this one out.