The Japanese New York duo returns after a decade hiatus with "Hotel Valentine."
Cibo Matto’s Viva La Woman was perfectly transparent but mysterious at its core when it was released in 1994. DJ culture was finding its way into alternative rock, so looped drum patterns and samples were no surprise, but an album of songs about food? And not food as a metaphor or a tool to investigate something else. It seemed to be about food. “Let’s eat carrots together,” Miho Hatori sings at the end of “Beef Jerky,” but there was nothing silly or winking in her performance. Throughout the album, she takes whatever she’s singing about seriously.
I’ve always attributed that fundamental mystery to Hatori and bandmate Yuka Honda being from Japan and living in Manhattan, assuming some of it is cultural. “That’s the land where me and Yuka live,” Hatori says of the familiar but unfamiliar space Cibo Matto’s songs inhabit. “I feel like we feel like we don’t have any nationality in a way. Music should be free-er than nations.”
Cibo Matto split up in 2002, then reunited in 2011 to play a benefit concert for victims of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Performing together again got Hatori and Honda talking about making music together again, and this year’s Hotel Valentine is the result. The reunited Cibo Matto will play One Eyed Jacks tonight.
“We like to have a concept,” Hatori says of Hotel Valentine, an album of songs that deal with a fictional hotel. “We stay in hotels a lot. A hotel has mysterious stories. It’s a good topic to think about.”
In every way, the album sounds like the natural extension of what they were doing. Hip-hop’s at its core, but Cibo Matto reaches for sounds outside that world. It can be noisy then sweetly melodic moments later, and they sonically draw from a broad spectrum of sound.
“This is the kid we made in the second marriage,” Hatori says, “Technology changed a lot since the last album. The sounds are more involved. We tried to make more modern sounds to be in this time right now.”
Both Hatori and Honda have stayed busy in the last decade. Hatori has worked with Stephen Merritt, Gorillaz, The Beastie Boys and John Zorn among others, while Honda performed with Sean Lennon, the reformed Plastic Ono Band, Cornelius, and she married Wilco guitarist Nels Cline. Hotel Valentine brings incorporates the growth that comes from those projects and experiences. “Everything changed,” Hatori says.
“We go deep together,” she says of Honda. “Communication between us is very fast. We understand each other. We both speak in a mixture of English and Japanese. We have chemistry with each other. We feel it ourselves.” But it’s not as simple as being Japanese. “Yuka’s a unique person. I don’t think I’d find her in Japan. I don’t have chemistry with every Japanese person. I’m blessed to meet and know her.”
Did she miss making music with Honda?
“Yes and no. We always have our own paths. That’s important. It’s really good to have long breaks.”