Artist Spotlight: Cibo Matto, music

Artist Spotlight: Cibo Matto (week three)

Every month, Memories of Shibuya will be taking a look at a different artist or group, with featured songs – one per week – highlighting the peaks of their musical career.

Cibo Matto is most well-known as a duo (as they’ve been for the majority of their careers), but for a brief period, represented in recorded form on the EP Super Relax and full-length Stereo ★ Type A, the girls were joined by Sean Lennon, Lennon’s IMA bandmate Timo Ellis and veteran session musician Duma Love to form a full band. This era also found the group branching out lyrically; the only song on Stereo ★ Type A about food, “Sci-Fi Wasabi”, sticks out like an awkward remnant of a past the group was defiantly breaking with, its clumsy rapping likewise coming off less like a return to form and more like a regression – to continue this series’ running Beastie Boys metaphor, the song comes off less like the spirited old-school revival of “Intergalactic” and more like tired retread “Ch-Check it Out”. However, it’s an incredible testament to how much better Stereo ★ Type A was than its preceding releases that this limp throwback sticks out as the only legitimate missed note; needless to say, the song below the jump isn’t “Sci-Fi Wasabi”.

Alright, confession time: I don’t like Cibo Matto. Their music was massively influential and they’re vital to the Shibuya-kei scene (especially when linking it to the ’90s alternative scene in the UK, which crossed over with Shibuya-kei on countless occasions – just take a look at Cornelius’s remix discography), but I don’t actually enjoy their music much. However, thanks almost entirely to the influence of the new musicians who contributed to their late ’90s releases, Super Relax and Stereo ★ Type A are actually quite pleasant to listen to even for someone who can’t make it through VIVA! La Woman all at once (I usually get about as far as “White Pepper Ice Cream” before I decide there’s really no benefit to subjecting myself to any more and calling it quits). Of course, I wouldn’t be foolish enough to give all the credit (the vast majority of it, but not all) to the new players – although more refined and varied, the music comes off as an organic evolution from their original sound rather than a radical departure. It’s this factor that makes the aforementioned “Sci-Fi Wasabi” so frustrating; yes, it can be an effective tactic to look forward by looking backwards, so to speak, but sometimes nostalgia just doesn’t do the job.

While Shibuya-kei is, by definiton, a genre so widely varied as to often seem a completely arbitrary designation, there are nevertheless some songs that are unmistakably Shibuya-kei. With its arbitrary Engrish lyrics and lounge-kitsch instrumentation (dig that Latin American percussion!), Stereo ★ Type A‘s “Flowers” is most definitely one of those songs; it’s a knowingly bogus interpretation of jazzy world-music sounds in the vein of mid-20th century performers like Dick Hyman (a primary influence on Dimitri From Paris), flaunting its inauthenticity every bit as much as insecure punks and rappers flaunt their often-challenged authenticity. It’s a copy of a copy of a copy, just like all Shibuya-kei is, and the charm is in its honesty. To use a metaphor close to the group’s name, if the bossa nova sounds co-opted by Cibo Matto on “Flowers” are like genuine Tuscan cuisine, Cibo Matto’s version is something akin to a trendy fusion restaurant – still tastes good, but there’s a lot of weird stuff mixed in that would give purists a heart attack. And it’s great – I mean, who likes purists anyhow?

Part one, part two, part four.

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