Groundbreaking duo Cibo Matto return with 'Stereotype A'
Web posted on: Monday, April 05, 1999 2:00:37 PM EDT
By Donna Freydkin
(CNN) -- It's hard to know what to make of a band like Cibo Matto.
After all, it's not every day that you come across two Japanese girls from New York's Lower East Side who dabble in delectable, utterly unique, loopy broken-English hip-hop that has blown critics away.
The duo's 1996 debut "Viva! La Woman" was a gem of renegade sampling and punked-out rap, with songs such as "Know Your Chicken" and "Artichoke" paying tribute to their love of food. And their music was so fresh, so curious, so good, that both Spin and Time magazines singled out the duo as one of the best hip-hop acts out there today.
The album was a critical smash, but Cibo Matto --- meaning "crazy food" in Italian -- found out that most people just didn't get it.
Blame it on the deceptively simple and playful musical concoctions, or the seeming frivolity of their songs, but bottom line --- few figured out that behind the nonsensical odes to food lurked earnest, thoughtful themes.
And not everyone really believed that two cute girls could actually operate studio equipment or had any staying power. So rather than fight a losing battle, Cibo Matto took their sweet time --- three years, to be exact --- and released an album they say should eradicate any doubts about their credibility.
Yuka Honda, one half of the duo, says that for their sophomore album "Stereotype A," Cibo Matto decided to be more direct. And then some.
"On this album, we wanted to make everything a little more articulate and obvious," says Honda. "The last album was subtle and people were unsure about us."
"Stereotype A" is a complex pop album crammed with samples, stereo drums, five-part harmonies and rhythm sequences. And for those who just couldn't bite past "Viva! La Woman"'s comical exterior, Cibo Matto has released an album that should make it easier to get through to the serious core.
"This album is more user-friendly and easier for people to see it," says Honda. "We made the picture simpler and clearer."
On "Viva! La Woman," Cibo Matto made a name for themselves with playful, smart songs, such as the dreamy pop song "Sugar Water," the punk "Beef Jerky," the funked out "Know Your Chicken" and zesty "White Pepper Ice Cream."
It probably wouldn't be a stretch to say that the duo, most similar to Japanese trio Shonen Knife, could help reinvigorate your faith in music, chipped away by the lackluster, faceless bands filling the post-grunge vacuum.
Vocalist Miho Hatori and keyboard/sampler player Honda, both Japanese natives from New York City's Lower East Side, first started out in a punk band called Leitoh Lychee (translation: "frozen lychee nut") in 1994. That same year, they formed Cibo Matto and began playing club gigs.
The duo played local events and openings, and buzz surrounding them slowly escalated. After being voted the best unsigned band in the CMJ readers' poll, Cibo Matto duly signed with Warner Brothers and started recording "Viva! La Woman" with producers and co-Latin Playboys Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello) and Tchad Blake (Continental Drifters).
"Viva! La Woman" debuted in 1996, and spent six weeks at the top of the CMJ radio charts. None other than the Beastie Boys, Russell Simins and Beck applauded the album.
The duo's debut was a rambunctious, delectable and utterly peerless mix of bossa nova, '40s swing and steel drums melded into sugary bilingual pop melodies, absurd lyrics and occasional milk-curdling screams.
'An element of not being taken seriously'
But the apparent goofiness of the songs belied the complexity of the album and the musical dexterity of Hatori and Honda.
"There was an element of not being taken seriously. When something new is coming into the world, people are skeptical," recalls Honda. "To some people, it was just a Japanese girl singing about food, and we could tell that some people doubted us."
"It was a really interesting experience to learn that things that were so clear to us could be so vague to others," she adds.
Few people grasped, for example that "Artichoke" was about identity and self-loathing, while "Birthday Cake" dealt with the Vietnam War.
Nevertheless, in 1996, "Viva! La Woman" was voted one of the top ten best albums of the year by Spin, and in 1998, Time Magazine selected it as one of its ten all-time greatest hip-hop albums. Cibo Matto, meanwhile, went on to open for Porno for Pyros, and then headlined their own tour.
But although their music had made a huge inroad with critics and music aficionados, the unwashed masses had yet to hear of them.
"For the last record, the main people who got it were either musicians or people who were into music," says Honda. "This time I wanted to make a record that my mom could listen to when she cleans house."
So Cibo Matto decided to spell it out loud and clear on their follow-up album.
Viva la Cibo
On "Stereotype A," in stores June 8, Cibo Matto replace their comical ambiguity with clarity. The album again blends hip-hop, jazz and pop, anchored by a slew of samples and Hatori's shrill voice.
The album isn't as overtly amusing as "Viva! La Woman," but every bit as charming and facetious.
"We're still pretty funny but we realized that when things are too funny out front, people don't get through to the serious core," says Honda, who produced the entire album, and worked the sampler to blend, loop and fuse music. "We wanted to show the other side."
From the gleeful "Working for Vacation" to the R&B throb of "Moonchild" and the jazzy "The Lint of Love," Cibo Matto again produce an album impossible to categorize.
And of course, the fact that music's prodigal son Sean Lennon has become a de facto third member of Cibo Matto hasn't hurt their recognition factor either. In the downtime between "Viva! La Woman" and "Stereotype A," Honda produced boyfriend Lennon's debut "Into the Sun" in 1998.
"He's a third member, and has been playing with us for a long time, since 'Viva! La Woman,'" says Honda of Lennon. "He's been driving us across America in a van, pushing amps with us and carrying everything that we can't. We're really grateful to him."
But now, it's Cibo Matto's turn to hopefully bedazzle the industry all over again. While Cibo Matto go their own way, without paying particular attention to trends or opinions, Honda acknowledges that mainstream success is important.
"It's just really nice when more people listen to your music and like you, and there's nothing greater than playing a show and having the audience know your songs," says Honda. "And for practical reasons, I want to play our stuff more and provide better conditions for my band and us, and buy more instruments."
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