Unfamiliar music can be like a difficult conversation; as you engage with your strange guest and get to know them, you might learn something even if there’s no shared context. Re-released due to a slowly growing DJ cult, Mariah’s 1983 album Utakata No Hibi is part of a musical conversation that may sound startling at first. A post-modern mix of Japanese folk, avant garde and dance pop, its rhythms and melodies are strange, intriguing and, soon enough, enchanting.

Mariah is led by Yasuaki Shimizu, whose versatile CV includes work with Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Ryuichi Sakamoto as well as saxophone adaptations of Bach. This is the career of a well-rounded and adventurous musical traveller, one who embraces whatever music he can get his ears on, no matter the source.

“Sokokara” (“From here”) starts the album with martial percussion that might lead you to think you’ve accidentally stumbled on a Japanese folk album in the dance section. But with that old-fashioned beat laying down a foundation, it soon picks up synth timbres that earn its dance cred, and the surprises keep coming, from Armenian singer Julie Fowell’s Middle Eastern lines and skronk guitar that sounds like it could have come from Arto Lindsay (who later collaborated with the album’s mixer-engineer Seigen Ono). It’s a manifesto for the rest of the album and for a dense, exploratory musical approach that takes yet another turn with a rippling piano melody that rises and ends with a gong. Full of new wave and no wave influences, it still never loses track of its folk roots thanks to that beating drum.

Wooden percussion opens “Shisen” (“A Vision“) with a delicate melody, but again, this folk-based music soon picks up a thumping beat. “Hana Ga Saitara” (“Were Flowers to Bloom”) brings in post-punk sax and a distorted male vocal. The dense arrangements seem to emerge from Remain in Light’s Afro-new wave synthesis, but with rhythms from the Far East. The pulsing eight-minute track sounds like the 12” remix of a new wave spy movie, its sax lines taking on dub echoes.

Fowell transforms the synth-driven “Three Blind Mice” motif of “Fujiyu Na Nezumi” and turns it into a dense drone that becomes ominous when it breaks out of the nursery theme. The album’s vocals may be its weak point, lacking the soul and rhythms of ’90s Shibuya-kei artists like Original Love and Pizzicato Five, but as those groups drew from a multitude of influences, so does Mariah.

Scottish DJs Optimo heard “Shinzo No Tobira” (“My Life Is Big”) in a record store, and their influence led to the rediscovery of Utakata No Hibi, but that marching dance floor favorite isn’t even the album’s strongest track. That would be “Sora Ni Mau Maboroshi,” its darkly percussive intro giving way to a lilting central melody that’s the album’s most persistent earworm. “Shonen” ends the album on another folk-pop hybrid, gong-like percussion following a mechanical groove that picks up timbres from all over: romantic piano chords, calmly searching sax lines, and Fowell’s exotic vocals. Even if you can’t identify the sources you can hear that this music is coming from all over the world; isn’t that a great thing? Utakata No Hibi comes from a restless and omnivorous musical appetite that greedily takes in everything and anything that can make a melody or dance beat. It’s a conversation you’ll want to continue.

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