Artists Of The Year CMU Approved

CMU Artists Of The Year 2014: Cibo Matto

By | Published on Tuesday 9 December 2014

Every weekday in the run up to the Christmas break, we’ll be revealing another of our ten favourite artists of the year. See the full list of artists announced so far here. Next up is Cibo Matto…

Cibo Matto

Over a few years in the late 90s, Cibo Matto built themselves a respectable cult status, never much troubling the charts but critically acclaimed and loved by fans for their eclectic hip hop-based sound and lyrics that struck the right balance between being funny and standing up to repeat listens. Then, with two albums in the bag – ‘1996’s ‘Viva! La Woman’ and 1999’s ‘Stereotype A’ – they split up and moved on to other things, leaving that cult band love and thoughts of what could have been hanging in the air.

And there Cibo Matto could quite happily have stayed, with all of that goodwill left firmly intact while both members of the group, Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori, moved on with their lives – amongst other things, Hatori was the original voice of Gorillaz’s Noodle, while Honda worked with the likes of Yoko Ono and Martha Wainwright.

Then in 2011, the duo reunited to perform at a benefit concert for the victims of the tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan that year. It seemed like a pretty good reason to reform, and something that wasn’t going to harm their legacy at all. But two months after that came the announcement that a tour and new album were now being lined up. With over a decade between them and their last album by this point, the chance that they might fail to recapture what made them great in the first place seemed alarmingly high.

Thankfully, Honda and Hatori shared those fears, slaving over the album to ensure it wasn’t an ill-judged attempt to rekindle a connection that was no longer there, and only eventually allowing it out into the world this year.

“I feel the same way as you”, said Hatori earlier this year when Noisey suggested that reunion albums tend to be something of a disappointment. “We tried hard not to cause that reaction. It took two years to make the album, and we worked so hard”.

Honda added: “We were very clear with ourselves that we wanted to do something that has the colour of Cibo Matto, but we also wanted to do something new. We really wanted it to be something that we’d be proud to present today. So we just criticised until we felt it was good enough to be presented”.

Being hard on themselves paid off, ‘Hotel Valentine’ is arguably their best work, a record that benefits from the duo’s extended time apart rather than hindered by it. And, as Honda admits that she and Hatori “were falling out of love with Cibo Matto” at the point they split, it’s almost certainly better than any third album they might have delivered at the time.

The easy option, of course, would have been to fire off a collection of songs about food, in their vein of ‘Know Your Chicken’ and ‘Birthday Cake’ from ‘Viva! La Woman’, which would at least have drummed up some nostalgic kudos from fans. But instead they went down a wholly different route, writing an album about a ghost who haunts a hotel, the one guest who can see the apparition and the relationship that blossoms between them.

That story runs through all ten tracks, but it’s always the music that drives the progression of the album. As such, the lyrics all paint vivid pictures, though it’s not always clear what they show or how they fit together. Themes of longing, loneliness and love all bubble up to the surface, which make it accessible regardless of how deeply you want to examine the mortality of the character feeling them. Nonetheless, the ghostly elements of the lyrics do at time add to the beauty of the scenes painted by Hatori with her vocals, particularly on the softly pulsing ballad ‘Empty Pool’.

Other high points on the album are its infectious lead single ‘MFN’, which is probably the closest in feel to Cibo Matto of old (both musically and lyrically), and leftfield disco track ‘Tenth Floor Ghost Girl’. But those are high high points amongst many high points, the album holding together as one complete entity with a skill they make seem effortless. Ten songs that run out in under 40 minutes, the album never overstays its welcome, and comes with enough layers to ensure you can happily keep returning to it and discovering new things to love about it long after that first listen.

So, not only have they pulled off the most unlikely of things – a good reunion album – I’m now pretty comfortable in the idea of them continuing on further, as they apparently plan to do.

You should obviously listen to ‘Hotel Valentine’ in full at the earliest possible opportunity, but here are the videos for two songs from it, ‘MFN’ and ‘Déjà Vu’: