Cibo Matto serves up nourishing sounds

Cibo Matto (Yuka Honda, left, and Miho Hatori) revisited their 1990s lineup as a duo before filling out their sound as a quartet on Tuesday for a packed house at Boot and Saddle.
Cibo Matto (Yuka Honda, left, and Miho Hatori) revisited their 1990s lineup as a duo before filling out their sound as a quartet on Tuesday for a packed house at Boot and Saddle.
Posted: February 14, 2014

In 1994, while America was still in the throes of grunge-rock's tedium, two tiny expatriate Japanese women, both part of New York City's avant-garde music scene, joined forces.

The focus of singer/rapper Miho Hatori and keyboardist/sampler Yuka Honda's combo Cibo Matto (which they say is Italian for "food madness") was a giddy mish-mash of Dadaist lyrics and tape-loop-heavy electro-pop. There were dollops of noise jazz, Francophone lounge music, and deep gurgling funk, all filtered through the prism of Japanese roots and influences such as the Boredoms and the Yellow Magic Orchestra.

They made but two albums, Viva! La Woman (1996) and Stereo Type A (1999) before splintering, but those records won them cultish devotion. Solo gigs and collaborations with the Plastic Ono Band (Honda), the Gorillaz, and Beck (Hatori) only made you miss Cibo Matto's quirk even more.

That's why Hatori and Honda's reunion in 2011, a pre-lover's-holiday release for their new album Hotel Valentine, and Tuesday's packed-to-the-rafters show at Boot and Saddle were cause for celebration.

They started the night as a duo. Honda let loose with a softly aquatic keyboard sound and a sampled mermaid's coo for the gloriously wifty "Sugar Water," and by the time Hatori's whispered vocals became part of its mix, the arrangement had become trip-hoppy and the lyrics ("the buildings are changing into coconut trees") more surreal. While Honda beefed up the synth-bass and the squelchy noises for "Beef Jerky," Hatori continued her quest toward food porn ("my weight is 300 pounds"), while shaking her silver-white hair.

As a duo, Hatori and Honda were good for acid-jazzy backgrounds, detuned squiggles, celestial clustered synths, and dub-effected vocal frippery - the sound of vintage Cibo Matto hits that the youngish crowd ate up from start to finish.

Yet, it wasn't until drummer Yuko Samuels and bassist Jared Samuels joined in that Cibo Matto grew fatter. "Deja-Vu" was lush with heavy, breathy synths - until the song's loud rhythmic break and shift in speed changed its mood. The ominous, ethereal vibe of "Moonchild" had all the makings of a gentle ballad until its busy rhythms and Hatori's creeped-out whining ("Can I ask you something, is your life better now?") sent it into angry overdrive.

Cibo Matto's best - and most forceful - moment came during "MFN" when Hatori's angry, expletive-laced rap matched the furor of her three fellow bandmates to manic perfection.

Tasty stuff.

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