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Stereotype A - Part 2
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Japanese Music Review
By: W. Dire Wolff

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To describe the music in Cibo Matto's album, "Stereotype A", is a difficult task. The album cannot be described by choosing one conventional or oversimplified category for the music to fit into. Each song is a complex and unique production effort unto itself. The nature of the mix reveals different nuances that may or not be revealed according to the stereo system being used and the acoustical setting surrounding the listener. The Cibo Matto album, "Stereotype A", is a very focused and directed effort to take the band’s music yet another step closer to their musical visions.

Stereotype AThe musical journey of "Stereotype A" begins with the easily assessable and danceable tune "Working for Vacation". The song features a lighthearted melody, futuristic effects, and happy go lucky vocal harmonies that hint of earlier works by the B-52s, although the lead vocal is more like something from the Flying Lizards. Yet the song is more complex in it’s musical arrangement than any of the B-52s’ compositions. Although the song appears very lighthearted, the actual lyrics express a more serious social commentary. The more astute listener finds there are actually two different tempos playing at the same time. Yuka also explains, "The melody in the chorus is inspired by Indian Music." Driving a convertible car with the top down on a sunny day, "Working for Vacation" plays on the stereo while the listener starts down the album’s musical highway.

In a live show or a dance club, the band or DJ needs to feed the audience with some recognizable songs to peak their interest and prepare them for new and unknown material that later will be introduced. For their second track on the album, Cibo Matto reintroduces from their EP "Super Relax", a song titled, "Spoon". The new mix is more complex and refined than the previously released version. Yuka created ten different versions of the track, before settling on the version that appears on "Stereotype A". Miho commented on the mix by saying, "There are so many drum tracks…it’s an engineer killer." This is the only previously released Cibo Matto song to appear on the album.

The band ventures forth in a very flunky groove with the Funkadelic style arrangement of the album’s fourth track, "The Lint of Love". Miho’s high spirited vocals are laid on top of slapping bass lines and funky soul guitar chords. The song features a sample of John Medeski on Clavinet, and Josh Redman on Trombone jamming in some very nice jazz bridge work. After the horns in the bridge slow the song down for a moment, the engine revs and a rap by Duma Love follows that echoes of Miles Davis final album, "Doo-Bop". The horns come back to segue Miho’s vocals reentry. Then as Miho explains, "This like a Parliament song where everybody gets to sing, and it’s a lot of fun." Just when the song seems to have run it’s course, some heavy metal guitar chords come thundering into the mix. The heavy metal edge was inspired by the fuzz bass that Sebastian Steinberg plays on the track. As the jazz horns come back in over the heavy metal guitar, the song returns to it’s soul music theme for the ending.

The album's journey takes the listener from the dance club to comfortable quiet lounges. A beautiful Japanese woman steps up to the microphone illuminated by a single spotlight. The well heeled patrons sip their expensive, blue cocktails with little umbrellas and their dry martini's. Another woman tinkers peacefully on the ivories, while the guitar player's fingers dance up and down the neck of his instrument. The singer begins to croon to the crowd. In this way, Cibo Matto handles the quiet beauty of songs such as "Moonchild" or "Stone". Occasionally a horn player adds some subtle jazz fills in the background. Then before the audience can finish there cocktails, they realize something has gone awry. The red stage curtains have started to melt and nothing is how it seems. In this way, Cibo Matto introduces the song "Speechless" that erodes the pastoral setting with rap vocals.

MihoSongs like "King of Silence" feature the typical Cibo Matto song writing approach where Miho writes the lyrics and Yuka composes the music separately. Miho was not satisfied to continue to leave all the musical composition to Yuka. Neither was it Yuka’s intent to remain in control of the musical arrangements. Miho had demonstrated her ability to communicate her musical ideas verbally and through her talent as a singer, but she wanted to increase the scope of the context of her musical expressions. Based on this, as well as her general love for musical expression, Miho taught herself to play guitar and drums. She didn’t settle to merely learn basic blues, rock, and folk guitar or other western music that revolved around the 1,4,5 standard chord progression. Instead, Miho set out to master more complex chords and progressions found in Brazilian compositions. "Stereotype A" features compositions based on sophisticated chord arrangements that Miho was able to bring to the table.

Miho’s Brazilian guitar influence can be heard on the tracks "Stone" and "Moonchild". The only bossa nova song to appear on the album, "Stone", features Miho playing guitar. The presence of acoustic guitar work on the album is blended with several musical styles. While probably not intentional, some of the guitar work and female vocal arrangements reflect the works of "Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks". Miho demonstrates on "Stereotype A" that she has been hard at work at developing her vocal range and diction, as well as helping to contribute more fully to the musical arrangements and composition of the songs.

While Cibo Matto still remains under the artistic direction of mostly Yuka and Miho’s songwriting, the additional collaboration with Sean Lennon and Timo Ellis has become an essential element of the band’s sound. Sean and Timo helped compose three of the songs for the album. During the past two years of touring, Sean has become recognized as Cibo Matto’s bass player. He is also an important singer in the background vocals. Sean’s role in the music of "Stereotype A" extends to playing guitar, drums, and percussion throughout the album. Like Sean, Timo can play almost every instrument that Cibo Matto would want to use in their material, but serves larger as the band's drummer. Timo’s background vocals are an essential part of "Stereotype A" sound. The addition of these two talented musicians has allowed Cibo Matto to take their sound to yet a new level.

With the release of "Stereotype A", Yuka emerges as a serious producer that is truly setting her own standard of modern sampling. She continues her upstream battle against record industry stereotypes of women and explains, "There are people who think women can’t operate studio equipment." Of course her experimentation with mixing, sampling, and production will be seen by some, as mistakes in not following the old school of how music should be done, as opposed to setting new trends of how music will evolve in the future. Throughout the music of Cibo Matto, there is a constant searching for a new blending of sounds. Skeptics may view the experimentation as lack of experience, those in the know will see that Yuka’s production of "Stereotype A" is a brilliant attempt to mold many types of music of the past century into a new musical format.

Perhaps from fear of being cast into yet new stereotypes, Yuka seems hesitant in interviews to endorse a particular musician that she is currently listening to. People with a diverse interest in musical styles have trouble explaining to others their own musical tastes, because if they mention who they are currently listening to, it detracts from the other musical influences that are also important to them. Appreciation of a particular music comes from selecting the right music, at the right time, in the right order, to fit the changing moods of the audience and the setting of the physical environment. Yuka’s production of the album was influenced by a wide array of producers from many different recording formats. Little tributes to various producers seemed to have been lightly dusted on top of some of the songs.

While the music of the album cannot be compared to that of the Beatles or the Beach Boys, there are traces of these bands recording techniques in the format. Moreover, the band would be inclined to shrug off comparisons to such bands. Yet, rarely do you find an album that covers such diverse musical ground that is blended so seamlessly into a single musical presentation. Cibo Matto’s technique of presenting a variety of well written songs with diverse themes, speaks to the formula of some of the most successful Beatle’s album. The album’s use of the human voice as one of the band’s instruments was pioneered by the Beach Boys many years earlier. In particular the work of the Beach Boys albums "Hollad", "Wild Honey", and "Pet Sounds", comes to mind. Although the musical presentation of the songs is unique unto itself, the tight harmonies and background vocals reflect the trademark formula used by some of Rock n’ Roll’s most successful groups. Songs such as "Backseat" (a "Bonus" track on Japanese/Australian CDs and on U.S. vinyl) , "Sunday" and "Clouds" showcase Cibo Matto’s use of multi-part harmonies and vocal choir arrangements that bear the influence of a wide variety of musical styles.

Yuka Honda"Stereotype A" continues Yuka’s personal battle to break the stereotype that sampling is not a valid form of musical creation. Music has advanced since the introduction of Hip Hop and Rap Music almost 20 years ago. Like all music, there are very original writers and others that borrow from the masters. How many guitarists have used bits of Chuck Berry’s guitar riffs in constructing their own original songs? Thousands? At what point does taking someone else’s idea to a newly defined and higher level become a valid art form? Yuka's own code of ethics and beliefs about the use of sampling in Cibo Matto’s music can be seen in comments like, "People are mistaken if they think sampling is just patching together someone else’s cool old music. I am not interested in replaying someone else’s music." Where groups such as Us3 have attempted to merge Rap and Jazz sampling into original work, Cibo Matto has sucessfully done this with their material on "Stereotype A". Yuka has taken the use of sampling to a new level on this album, the layers of live musicians and bits of samples are seamlessly intertwined and transparent to the listener.

Those hardcore Cibo Matto fans that have been waiting for some "Hard Core Bad Little Japanese Girl from New York City Rap", won’t be disappointed by Miho’s handling of the song, "Sci-Fi Wasabi". The song was inspired by Miho’s encounters with bike messengers in the city. It is your basic Miho rap with a sweeping musical backdrop that can evoke images of space craft hovering through the streets of dark, futuristic cities. Cartoon characters race their bicycles on the video arcade contolled streets below. Sci-Fi Wasabi illustrates the Cibo Matto sense of humor and their ability to rap. Various other tracks on the album feature Miho shifting from heavy Rapper to an elegant, beautiful nightclub singer, through the course of a single song. Most notable on the album is the song, "Sunday" which Miho begins with a heavy duty rap and closes with her calling sweetly in song, "I’m living in the second world. I’m watching you…’

If the journey’s terrain was not varied enough for the listener up this point, then track ten’s heavy metal adventure will turn the tide. The song, "Blue Train" features heavy metal power chords that sound like the destruction of Metallica, Soundgarden, or Pearl Jam. The vocal comes in with Miho singing a barren, ghostly punk melody. Then the fire erupts as Miho screams the chorus of "Ain’t no Pain on the Blue Train", with the pain and conviction of some of the earlier works by the Plastic Ono Band. The power of the electric guitar is lightly colored by Sci-Fi effects and spacey guitar licks. It stands by itself, as an all out, heavy metal, off-road adventure.

Guest appearances are an integral part of Cibo Matto’s musical presentation. In making the album someone was heard to utter, "Round up the usual suspects." In addition to some return visitors, the line up included some other good friend’s of the band. Yumiko Ohno and Zak of Buffalo Daughter worked with the band to create the song, "Clouds". The song (Clouds) features a techno world beat overlaid with wind swept Thomas Dolby style keyboards. The vocals begin with a female version of "Neil Young's" Trans style robot vocals. The "Lost in Space" robot vocal gives way to an ethereal female chourus. Yumiko plays the moog and helps out on the background vocals of the song, and Duma Love was featured as the human beat box. To create a more jazzy feeling, Cibo Matto makes use of skilled horn players such as Curtis Fowles and Dave Douglas on various tunes. Other guests on the album includes Dougie Bowne, Marc Ribot, and many others.

Finally the journey has to come to an end, with an experimental piece composed by Dougie Brown. The song, "MORTMING", is made up of furturistic music and improvised vocal arrangements aided by the vocoder. The words, "Stereotype A", are repeated in stereo voice for the album's ending. The listener is left quietly waiting in the driveway for the band’s next musical journey.

Sean LennonThe Cibo Matto album, "Stereotype A" is a very focused and directed effort to take the band’s music to a new level of sophistication. The musicians took one step more in defining the depth and variety of their musical interests and backgrounds. Yuka’s determination at mastering the art of musical production along with her already advanced abilities on various keyboard instruments is evident in the high quality of the album. The music successfully spans cultural influences from around the globe, while anchoring the mix in relevant similarities that allow the material to flow from one song to the next without becoming disjointed. The vocal arrangements lead by Miho, demonstrate her range as a singer and her talent as a songwriter. The addition of Timo and Sean as full time players with the band, has further increased the band’s musical horizons. By thealbum's completion, Duma had also been picked up as a full time player with the band. With the creation of "Stereotype A", Cibo Matto has provided a complex musical presentation that virtually eliminates the possibility of placing the entire body of work into one simple category. If the World wants to stereotype this album, they will need to create a new definition or new musical genre to do so.

Cibo Matto has established itself as one of the finest alternative music bands of the 1990's. Through their live performances and recorded material, they have demonstrated themselves to be serious musicians with a great sense of humor. Their Crazy Food theme was used initially to provide symbolism of complex emotional and social ideas, that might otherwise be lost within international language barriers. The world view that Cibo Matto has and the multicultural content of their music is something we can all learn from. The band has been made more successful by the friendly networking and shared experiences with other musicians they have collaborated with. Miho has demonstrated her diversity as a songwriter and singer, by performing live and on albums in several genres and languages. Meanwhile, Yuka is developing as a serious producer that is setting her own standard of modern sampling, hopefully other musicians will continue to draw ideas from her work. The addition of Sean, Timo, and Duma has further increased the musical scope and appeal of the band. As a band, Cibo Matto is in a constant state of metamorphous and their music will continue to evolve with each new performance.

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