Just one full-length album into their career, Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori of New York
hip-hop pop band Cibo Matto felt they needed a new creative diet.
Tagged as quirky oddballs obsessed with lyrics about food — Cibo Matto is Italian
for "food madness" — the pair felt they had to serve up a different musical repast on
their just-released sophomore album, Stereo Type A.
"Cibo Matto is the personal work of Miho and I," songwriter/producer Honda, 38,
explained. "It's very crazy and free. There's so many things I want to do. I really like to
experiment with a lot of things and have the freedom to develop our sound" (RealAudio excerpt of
Stereo Type A is full of the group's mix-and-match musical approach, which, this
time out, includes everything from the spacey bossa nova of "Working for Vacation" and
"Moonchild," to the hard funk of "Spoon" and the heavy-metal skronk of "Blue Train."
Honda said the album's title is both a pun on the high-stress lifestyle of the band's
adopted hometown and an attempt to transcend the caricature of the band that has
emerged. The self-described studio rat, who has lived in New York for 13 years, said she
and vocalist Hatori planned to call the new album Stereo Type A before they even
began recording it.
To reinforce Honda's plea that listeners look beyond the duo's appearance, they
included such songs as the album's hip-hop-influenced first single, "Sci-Fi Wasabi"
(RealAudio excerpt), in which Hatori
raps, "Ain't no analog for individuality/ I got immunity from multiplicity."
"The fact that we're from Japan, or that we're girls and we're small, the first thing people
think of is an animation cartoon," Honda said.
Hatori's stilted rapping style also has affected people's perceptions of Cibo Matto, Honda
said. "It's definitely something that's hard for her," Honda said, "but at the same time, we
love hip-hop so much, so just the fact that it's hard [is] not stopping her."
The album is packed with guest performances from the group's many New York
hipster-musician acquaintances, from avant-garde guitarist Marc Ribot to bassist
Sebastian Steinberg of boho pop-group Soul Coughing and Smokey Hormel, guitarist in
pop-deconstructionist Beck's band.
Earlier this month the group played a four-night stand at New York's Bowery Ballroom,
where it was joined by Ribot, Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore, turntablists DJ
Shadow and Rob Swift of the X-Ecutioners, jazz drummer Susie Ibarra, hip-hop group
the Arsonists and singer/performance artist Yoko Ono.
Joining Hatori and Honda on the album are Sean Lennon (a solo artist and the son of
Ono and late Beatle John Lennon) as well as drummer Timo Ellis. Lennon and Ellis are
now members of Cibo Matto; New York rapper/turntablist/percussionist Duma Love is the
unofficial fifth member of the group.
Ellis, 29, said he's felt a musical connection with the Cibo Matto founders ever since the
first day he jammed with them in 1995.
"They're both very open and extremely articulate about music; and they know what they
want," said Ellis, who was in a pair of proto-grunge bands in Olympia, Wash., in the early
'90s and has been playing with Cibo Matto on and off for the past two years. "It feels
more like a band now that we've made this record; like we climbed a mount together and
got to the top."
Honda, a former member of the acid-jazz group Brooklyn Funk Essentials,
immigrated to the U.S. in 1987. She was followed six years later by Hatori, a former member of the
Japanese rap group Kimidori. The pair first hooked up in 1994 in the short-lived noise
band Leitoh Lychee, after which they formed Cibo Matto.
In addition to being more musically eclectic, Stereo Type A is less food-obsessed
than the band's critically acclaimed 1996 debut, Viva! La Woman. That album
featured the songs "Apple," "Beef Jerky," "Sugar Water" (RealAudio excerpt), "Artichoke" and
"White Pepper Ice Cream."
Furthermore, the lyrics to the confrontational rap song "Speechless" and the
introspective bossa nova ballad "Flowers" seem to expose a more personal side of the
band. But Honda said much of that can be chalked up to the language barrier faced by
"On Viva!, Miho was trying to do the same thing on 'Le Pain Perdu' as [she does]
on 'Speechless,' talking about 'got to get the hell out,' but it's more clear on this one,"
While "Le Pain Perdu" wafts along on trip-hop jazz beats and abstract lyrics such as
"Your maple is sweet/ But it's too mushy, baby," the funky, skittering rap in "Speechless"
finds Hatori lamenting, "Love is like a bubble, easily breakable/ I can't take this ache for
my own sake."