- I was introduced to Mariah's "Shinzo No Tobira" by Swiss digger Lexx, who included it on his 2012 compilation for Claremont 56, Originals Volume Eight. There were some inspired selections on the CD, but "Shinzo No Tobira" was its finest curveball, a gilded combination of gentle drums, soaring melody and indecipherable (to me, anyway) vocals. The song was originally released on the Better Days label in 1983. It was tucked away towards the end of Utakata No Hibi, the sixth and final album from Mariah, an experimental band led by Japanese musician and composer Yasuaki Shimizu.
"Shinzo No Tobira" was coveted by record nerds long before Originals. Lexx first heard it on Prins Thomas's DJ History Mystery Mix back in 2009. Prins Thomas had in turn picked up Utakata No Hibi on a trip to Japan. Though he's unsure who gave it to him, most roads of inquiry about Utakata No Hibi lead back to Chee Shimizu, a scholarly record collector who lives in Tokyo. (He's published an entire book devoted to strange and exotic music.) For a few years, Shimizu, who's no relation to Yasuaki of Mariah, would bring out copies of Utakata No Hibi on his trips to Europe to give to friends. But eventually the well dried out and copies became scarce and expensive.
Enter Palto Flats, the New York label that's just reissued No Hibi. They say licensing the record was a "tricky and complicated process." This is probably an understatement. Licensing Japanese music is notoriously difficult, and many have tried and failed where Palto Flats succeeded.
"Shinzo No Tobira" is undoubtedly the jewel in the album's crown, but it's by no means the only special moment. That same impeccable drum loop is audible on opening song "Sokokara," whose atmosphere—a combination of folk, new wave and pristine '80s Japanese pop—sets the album's tone.
Some songs, like "Shishen," gesture towards traditional forms of Japanese music, while "Hana Ga Saitara" slips nicely into the wonkier end of new wave. But mostly the album seems to exist in its own exquisite world, one where centuries of Japanese cultural isolation collides with 1980s studio wizardry. There's "Sora Ni Mau Maboroshi," which is busily decorated with clipped drums and little bursts of marimba, and introspective closer "Shonen," which provides a cushioned landing immediately after "Shinzō No Tobira" finishes on an abrupt piano chord. Utakata No Hibi is not just essential for diggers obsessed with weird '80s Japanese synth music. It's a timeless album that deserves a wider audience.
A1 Soko Kara
B1 Hana Ga Saitara
C1 Fujiyū Na Nezumi
C2 Sora Ni Mau Maboroshi
D1 Shinzō No Tobira