After more than a decade as separate entities, Cibo Matto got back together and made an album, Hotel Valentine. I’ve now bought the album and listened to it a bunch of times, and it’s interesting to think about how this album fits into the musicology of the two artists.
A really brief sketch of their collective history would praise Viva! La Woman as a brilliant debut. It’s a complex album that plays with lots of different fragments from various musical genres. The whole album has a dream-like quality that feels very sophisticated. The Super Relax EP feels like fragments and discards from the first album. The only compelling track is “Aguas de Marco”, which is a much simpler track that has a great theme and fairly regular rhythm. This points toward the much simpler Stereotype A. The second full album rollicks along, and it’s a much less demanding listen. Less subtle, but perhaps more fun.
Yuka Honda released a solo album first, Memories Are My Only Witness. Musically, this is closely related to the more experimental parts of the Cibo Matto albums. It’s a brilliant album, very playful, yet still accessible. She followed up with Eucademix, an album that’s got some moments of genius, but is far more hit-and-miss for me. The lead track, “Humming Alone” is the most compelling, and it features one Miho Hatori on vocals.
The following year, 2005, Miho Hatori put out her solo album, Ecdysis. At the time the reviews I was reading expressed the view that Ecdysis dispelled the lingering idea that Yuka Honda had been the musical genius behind Cibo Matto. In fact, it is a great album too, with complex and experimental tracks that have a strong pop aesthetic. After it came out, I started to think about Viva! La Woman as resembling the work of Yuka Honda and Stereotype A reflecting the artistic sensibility of Miho Hatori. I have no idea whether that reflects the creative process of either album in any way.
Yuka Honda’s third album, Heart Chamber Phantoms is completely inaccessible to me. I’ve tried to listen to it a number of different times in different environments, both as an album and track-by-track. I just don’t get it. It killed my enthusiasm for her work, and I completely missed her 4th album, If By Yes, Salt On Sea Grass. An omission I’ll have to correct at some point soon.
So, Hotel Valentine. It’s a kind of concept album, imagining a stay at a Hotel, so it instantly has a lot stronger structure than any of their other work. There is one anomalous track that doesn’t seem to fit into the schema, “MFN”, but it’s catchy enough that it doesn’t matter. A couple of the tracks are as good as anything else they’ve produced, but the album as a whole hasn’t fired my imagination in the way some of the others have.
Musically, it’s somewhere between Viva! La Woman and Stereotype A, but a bit closer to the earlier album. In fact, the album sounds and feels like a slightly nostalgic reunion album, re-fusing the accessible pop sound I associate with Miho and the complex experimentation I associate with Yuka. Thus it’s a bit short of their best work – the least good of their three albums, worse than their best solo work. That sounds a bit disappointing, but I think actually the real situation is that those peaks are pretty high. This is a strong album – if I didn’t have anything to compare it to, I think I’d like it a lot more. It was certainly a worthwhile investment of a few dollars and time pleasantly spent getting my ideas together about it.
Now to order Professor Elemental’s follow-up album to the terrific The Indifference Engine.