Release Date: Feb 14, 2014
Record label: Chimera Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Dance
New York-based, avant-pop duo Cibo Matto have returned after a hiatus of 14 years to deliver their most bewitchingly bonkers album yet. Musicians Yuka C. Honda and Miho Hatori, the Japanese expatriates who arrived on the scene with tales of beef jerky, sugar water, and white pepper ice cream, are no longer suggesting that “you’ve got to know your chicken”.
Cibo Matto's 2014 return with Hotel Valentine -- their first album in 15 years -- was one of the more unexpected reunions of '90s acts. After all, both Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori had busy schedules throughout the 2000s and 2010s: Honda worked as a solo artist and with the Plastic Ono Band, while Hatori collaborated with Beck, Gorillaz, the Beastie Boys, and a host of other well-known artists. On their third album as a duo, it's clear that they reunited not out of a need for attention, but because they enjoy making music together.
For all intents and purposes, Cibo Matto was dead. After 1999’s Stereo Type A, chief songwriters Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda put the act on hiatus. Weeks became years, years became decades. Nostalgia claimed the band, which would be remembered for minor radio hits about poultry and sugar water — an eccentric artifact of an eccentric era.
Blame the extended hiatus they took after their too-brief heyday if you want, but Cibo Matto are hard to separate from the late 90s notion of cool. The association with Shibuya-kei chic expanded into international-minded polyglot goodwill, the consciously high-concept Michel Gondry music video (the time-bending DePalma-gone-palindrome “Sugar Water”), the collaborations with a then-emergent Sean Lennon, the playful but well-composed hip-hop-adjacent eclecticism—it's hard to imagine Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori becoming minor sensations at any other time, no matter how casually their style nodded to the eras preceding them. They still made individual strides in the ten-plus years following a breakup that left 1999's Stereo*Type A, their last significant work as a team, and continued to embody a stay-posi NYC boho philosophy that's all but disappeared from the city's current hipster-panic atmosphere.
Few bands embodied the Nineties' hey-whatever boho freedom like Cibo Matto: two Japanese women living large on the Lower East Side, mixing jazz, dub and lounge pop with a post-Beasties hip-hop swizzle. Their bright sound is a touch moodier on their first album in 15 years, as Miho Hatori drops doleful stoner whimsy over keyboardist-producer Yuka Honda's languid boom-bap. Members of Wilco and Atoms for Peace highlight an ace crew of backing musicians on what turns out to be a concept record about two ghosts haunting a New York hotel.
Cibo Matto break their 15-year hiatus following Stereo Type A with this return album on former member Sean Lennon's Chimera label. Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda have kept themselves busy in myriad projects during the time apart, from jazz and bossa nova to collaborations with Gorillaz, Yoko Ono, Petra Haden, and Handsome Boy Modeling School. This loose, wonky concept album about ghosts living in a hotel is a callback to the genre-twisting irreverence which made their unusual debut LP (10 songs about food!) a mid-'90s alternative era staple, but Hotel Valentine isn't free of dust and cobwebs.
Miho Hatori and Yuka C. Honda have never been ones to go with the flow. Their 1996 debut album, Viva! La Woman, was a food-obsessed avant-rap record that dared to be ridiculous at a time when full-throated earnestness - Alanis Morissette we're looking at you - was shipping millions. The pair's second album, 1999's Stereo Type A, was a genre-hopping creative triumph that scaled back the surrealism and wiped away any semblance of 'Know Your Chicken' novelty.
After a 15 year break between albums, ‘90s electro pop band Cibo Matto have finally decided to resurface. And while the Cibo Matto Cult (most knocking into middle age at this point) are likely thrilled, the casual listener will likely greet Hotel Valentine with a collective “this is it?’ The album, 10 tracks total, is decent enough, but certainly wasn’t worth a decade-and-a- half of waiting. The concept of the record revolves around the ghost of a girl who hangs around a hotel, and despite the obligatory eye roll that most “concept albums” seem to induce nowadays, these songs actually tie together pretty well.
Nicole Atkins“Slow Phaser”(Oh Mercy! Records)4 starsNicole Atkins has a bullet-proof voice. Gleaming in tone, piercing in volume and unstoppable in attitude, it rips right through you. It’s the ideal vehicle for a song like “Cool People,” which could become the anti-Williamsburg anthem of ….
Much like the recent comeback by contemporary Luscious Jackson, it’s hard to tell if Cibo Matto’s return is motivated by genuine rediscovery of ’90s funky female trip-hop groups, or if the duo is just working through a musical midlife crisis. That’s no knock to Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda’s perseverance. For an act that made its mark with spaced-out grooves, breakbeat quasi-rapping, and lyrics featuring frequent culinary references (“Cibo Matto” is Italian for “crazy food,” a concept best exemplified in the video for “Know Your Chicken”), Cibo Matto has done a remarkable job avoiding forgotten-novelty status and remaining a legitimate presence in the industry.