Way back in the declining days of alternative rock, a talented duo of Japanese women living in New York entered the fringes of popular consciousness with offbeat songs about food. Although the act was considered something of a gimmick band, Cibo Matto’s Viva! La Woman was an astounding, if occasionally awkward, genre-hopping delight that almost perfectly encapsulated the anything-goes mentality of the mid-‘90s alt-rock scene. For me, personally, it was one of the first albums that suggested that there were artists worth discovering outside of what the local “modern rock” station featured in its rotation.
After a stopgap EP, an unjustly ignored follow up (the beautiful, bossa-nova-tinged Stereotype A), and a guest appearance on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cibo Matto just stopped at the start of the new millennium. Perhaps it was a wise decision, considering how unkind this decade has treated many of the guiding lights of the previous one. Outside of Cibo Matto, the members have continued to dabble in their own eccentric pursuits, now operating a little bit more under the radar than during their salad years. For example, it came to me as a shock that Eucademix is actually keyboardist Yuka Honda’s second solo album, her first one released in a total media vacuum. John Zorn’s Tzadik label, after all, doesn’t quite have the marketing budget of Warner Brothers, which might be fitting considering the experimental nature of Eucademix.
Eucademix is, as the title suggests, is less of a fully formed cohesive album but rather a bit of an oddball mix of tracks. Taking her cues from label head Zorn, Honda follows the free-for-all Tzadik ethos and produces a collection of mostly instrumentals that seem both tossed off yet somehow satisfying at the same time. The casual atmosphere is highlighted by the long list of Honda associates that perform on the album: Peta Haden, Marc Ribot, Trevor Dunn, and Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori and Timo Ellis. The album was originally supposed to be credited to “Yuka Honda & Friends”, and this collaborative feeling gives what could have been a chilly electronic album a much warmer feeling.
The warmth of Eucademix comes from Honda’s pop background. Instrumental electronic albums typically appeal more to the head than the heart, but Eucademix shows that Honda considers electronic music as simply pop music coming from a slightly different direction. One of Cibo Matto’s strengths was that it treated all genres of music (rock and roll, rap, funk, jazz, bossa nova, metal, trip-hop, etc.) as essentially slightly different styles of pop music, so it shouldn’t be shocking that Honda has made a pure pop delight out of what could have been an admirable but unexciting experiment. The twittering “Twirling Batons in My Head”, for instance, is as jittery and nervous as the title suggests, but Honda never loses track of the enthralling main melody. While the music remains unconventional, Honda is unafraid to mix in wordless vocals and bubblegum “la la la’s” into her heady mix.
She is also unafraid to give the music a darker twist, another trait from her Cibo Matto days. While the jungle-themed instrumental “When the Monkey Kills” or the solo piano “Seed of Seed of Peach” may lull the listener into thinking this is a low-key, almost loungey, affair, the spiked Ribot guitars of “Some Things Should Be Kept Unsaid” or the controlled lunacy of the aptly-titled “Why Are You Lying to Your Therapist?” will shock the listener out of any sort of reverie.
The anticipated highlight for the Cibo Matto faithful would be “I Dream About You”, a reunion between Honda and Hatori that, in an unsurprising surprise, sounds nothing like anything the pair has created in the past. Instead, “I Dream About You” is a thumping, electroclash love song with Hatori’s vocals much drier than her typical heartfelt performances. If listened to without context, one would scarcely think that this was the same pair who sung “Know Your Chicken” all those years ago. What is promising about “I Dream About You” is that it shows that both Honda and Hatori are uninterested in revisiting past victories, suggesting that the two (either on their own or together) still have the potential to continue breaking down musical conventions long past their 15 minutes of meaningless fame. Some critics might say that they are wasting their talents on these countless “minor” side projects. Eucademix will not only silence these critics, it might even turn the ears of those stubborn folks still waiting for a new Cibo Matto release.