Heart Chamber Phantoms

About 8 years ago I was sitting at my desk, calculating something or sketching something, or generally being a productive member of society, when I became aware of this amazing sound emanating from the Architect’s area. It was Sugar Water, from the extended Buffy soundtrack. It was a harmonious and complex sound with vivid surrealist lyrics – it was a whole new kind of music to me, a kind of music that I think is still vanishingly rare.

I bought their two full albums, Viva! La Woman and Stereotype A as well as the EP Super Relax. All three have distinctly different sounds, while pretty clearly coming from the same inventive minds. I don’t exactly have the musical training or vocabulary to do justice to their music. The best I can do is say the music is catchy, yet complex, and seems unafraid to explore genre boundaries.

Unfortunately, that’s all they produced as a band, and so I naturally waited with anticipation for their solo outings.

Yuka Honda, the instrumentalist from the band, was the first to go, with Memories Are My Only Witness. It’s a completely different sound to Cibo Matto; somehow simpler, somehow deeper. I’m better with describing words. I felt like it was an evolution from the music of Cibo Matto. Not too long after, she followed it up with Eucademix, which is a more challenging album, but from my limited perspective, less consistent. The stuff that I like on the album, I love as much as anything Cibo Matto produced. The stuff that I don’t like… is not intelligible to me.

Miho Hatori finally, 6 years after Stereotype A, put out her solo outing in 2005. Ecdysis is less sophisticated and intelligent than Honda’s instrumental albums, but it is entirely catchy and appealing. It showcases the inventive lyrics from Cibo Matto, doing what I love best about Bowie – suggesting rather than telling a strange and fascinating story. It’s like beautiful surreal art.

After 2005, there was silence from both of them for years. In 2010, Yuka Honda released her third solo album – Heart Chamber Phantoms. As soon as I got news of it, I pre-ordered it. Finding a supplier was a bit tricky for that actually, it’s a niche release. It duly arrived and I tore off the wrapping and listened to it that instant. Well, I tried. After about 20 minutes my colleagues at work asked if I could take it off, since it was just an irritating noise to them. Loathe as I was to cease, I conceded that it wasn’t a very accessible sound. I listened to the rest of the album by myself through headphones, again finding disappointment. I took it home, hoping my much better home stereo would improve the sound – it didn’t.

Even with the tracks which I didn’t fully grasp on her previous albums, I could sense some kind of design schema in the background, but even that rudimentary level of musicality seems evasive. There are just entirely too many musical sounds jammed together over a nominal syncopated rhythm. They don’t go anywhere because they don’t seem to be anywhere to start with. For a more mainstream album, think about Portishead’s Third, which is essentially weird ambiance.

I’ve gotten the album down a couple of times a year since then, hoping that subsequently it will start to make sense to me. It doesn’t. But there’s good news – Cibo Matto got together for a reunion tour in 2011 and played 3 gigs. As a result, a rumour has started that the band will be getting back together and putting out an album this year, and their official website has a banner saying “Cibo Matto 2012”, which is surely a promising sign! And if not, perhaps Heart Chamber Phantoms will finally make sense to me in 2013.

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