Whoever thought when "Know Your Chicken" came out in the mid-90s it would make such a mark on the culture? We're talking about a surrealist pastiche about magenta chickens set to boom-bap breakbeats and muted trumpet, rapped by a pair of grinning Japanese girls so obsessed with eating that they named every song on their first record after food. It doesn't exactly spell commercial success, especially for a then-unknown avant-pop act from New York City who's name is Italian for "Crazy Food."
Self-produced over a two-year period by Miho Hatori and Yuka C. Honda, Hotel Valentine is their most impressive release to date as it finds them constructing a rich concept album, a love story amid the ghosts traversing the hallways of a hotel. Underneath the lush sonic palate, they have created the soundtrack to an invisible film as they've continued to refine their sound and remain fully committed to an ethic of fun.
Unlike most pretenders, Cibo Matto's music is an entirely self-contained world, a look into the fantasy lives of Hatori and Honda. Both women were raised in Japan, but met in New York's vivid 90s Lower East Side art scene that included John Zorn, Sean Lennon, the Beastie Boys, and Marc Ribot, a brief period of colorful experimentation at the outset of the Giuliani administration. Soon after they met, the pair formed a punk band called Leitoh Lychee (frozen lychee nut), which eventually morphed into the post-genre freakout that Cibo Matto would become. Within six months, David Byrne came to see them at a show and Warner Brothers picked them up off the strength of one self-released cassette tape.
This initiated one of the most colorful careers of the 90s. Cibo Matto exploded internationally, touring worldwide and releasing two classic records, 1996's Viva! La Woman and 1999's Stereo Type A. Their live shows and albums were marked by wild experimentation, incorporating hip-hop, Brazilian music, African and Latin jazz, and pop into their unclassifiable mix. They collaborated extensively with Yoko Ono, as well as the renowned French director Michel Gondry, who lent his visionary style to cement them in the budding consciousness of the MTV generation with his legendary video for "Sugar Water." They sold over 100,000 of both of albums and graced seven magazine covers. Then, in a bizarre twist of fate, many fans discovered Cibo Matto performing in an infamous scene on an early episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Spin magazine included the debut album in their "100 Best Albums of the '90s" list, and Time magazine picked it in their list of the "Best Hip Hop Albums of All Time." Their adoring fanbase grew until 2001, when the band announced an extended hiatus.
During that 10-year interval, both women worked on numerous interesting projects. Yuka Honda released three solo experimental albums on John Zorn's Tzadik Records, recorded albums with jazz great Dave Douglas and Yoshimi (of the Boredoms), meanwhile producing a number of Japanese pop artists and acclaimed albums by Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band and Martha Wainwright. Miho Hatori released a solo album, two Brazilian discs with Beck guitarist Smokey Hormel & percussionist Mauro Refosco, guested on three Beastie Boys songs, and sang the role of Noodle on the Gorillaz first album, including lead vocals on the hit "19-2000."
Says Honda, "Having spent some time apart, we became more aware of our magical chemistry, our magnetic bond. We both realized we had unfinished business."
On February 14, 2011 a Cibo Matto light bulb flickered and they struck upon the idea of an invisible film, a score without motion, an album called Hotel Valentine.
Hotel Valentine is a metaphor, a question, an answer, an idea, a feeling; A strange and vivid scene.
"Hotel Valentine is the cinematic bricolage of Yuka and me," Says Hatori. "Our medium is music. For me, making an album is like raising a child. We don't know what kind of person (story) they will end up to be."