Music News

Two Decades In, Cibo Matto Intent on Staying Strange

Admit it: You've always longed for a music video that, in sum, features shots of bananas, pineapples, and other fruit; an explosively gaudy color scheme; several bizarre green-screen backgrounds seen at a rapid-fire pace; a rap interlude; a saxophone solo; lyrics about French bread and oysters; and the phrase "motherfucking nature!" repeatedly being delivered as if it were the most badass slogan ever invented. Well, with the clip for "MFN" — an infectiously ferocious synth-pop number off the brand-new Hotel Valentine — Cibo Matto has made those dreams real, all while providing sociocultural commentary.

"The song is about the part of nature that's motherfucking," multi-instrumentalist Yuka Honda says. "Nature's not just only this beautiful thing — beautiful sunset and blue sky. There's all these parts that come with nature. Also, there's this notion that we like to think humans are not nature or a lot of things we do are not nature, but we seem to be a part of nature. Plastic seems to come from Earth, so we just wanted to talk about this very nasty part of nature."

Truth be told, it's difficult to fathom exactly what Honda is talking about and the crux of the "MFN" video, but understanding the point is not entirely the point of enjoying Cibo Matto. Since forming in 1994, the New York City-based duo of Japan natives Honda and vocalist Miho Hatori have made sure to strictly adhere to the principle of unpredictability and deliver their music with such earnest conviction that the listener will be compelled to go along for the ride even with little clue about what the hell is going on.

Cibo Matto (Italian for "crazy food") has dedicated its career to writing an extraordinary amount of music about edibles and using a freewheeling sonic palette that dips into indie-pop, trip-hop, and punk pools.

"We never tried to sound like anything. We never thought about [sounding like anything] before, nor do we think about it today. But we are listening to a lot of stuff, including stuff from the '60s [and] the '70s to what's out right now, and they all are triggering inspiration. Then we try to come up with some interesting combination that you wouldn't think of," Honda says before rattling off so many influences from the '60s and '70s — Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, and the Beatles, among others — that she leaves no clues to whom they fundamentally admire.

After a delightfully weird 1990s run that incorporated additional members (including Sean Lennon), the pair amicably broke up in 2002. Nine years later, Cibo Matto regrouped for a benefit concert for victims of the Tohoku earthquake in Japan and have remained afloat since. Hotel Valentine, their third full-length and first since 1999's Stereo Type A, is a concept album loosely framed around a subject so odd and specific — namely, a love story involving a ghost that haunts a hotel — that this project feels like a profoundly Cibo Matto creation. The music, too, is as kinetic and brazen as ever, juxtaposing dives into experimental chaos with beautifully quiet moments.

Cibo Matto never entirely lets you into its world, but that elusiveness is part of its charm. "I've noticed a lot of people like to interview us and ask, 'What is the one thing that made you get back together?' or 'What is the one thing that you want to say with this album?' This is one thing that we don't do: think of this one thing. We like to think about a lot of things and express many things at once. We're not really into doing one thing. We're not into being either white or black," Honda says. "We just like 50 shades of gray."

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Reyan Ali
Contact: Reyan Ali