Sharps & flats

Cibo Matto's "Viva! La Woman" rewired hip hop in the same way that riot grrrls reinvented punk. What happened on "Stereotype A"?

Topics: Music,

It was spring 1996 and on my MTV, two itty-bitty-pretty-gritty Asian women were on “The Jon Stewart Show” jumping up and down on two ittier, bittier beds yelling, “I know my chicken/You gotta know your chicken.” Were Cibo Matto turning a pimp’s come-on into a culinary metaphor? Were they lampooning the boyish world of street-cred insiderism? Were they sensualizing one of Kathleen Hanna’s secret codes of riot grrrl identification? Were they any good?

Young, hip women had one answer for rocker boys like me: “Shut up and eeeeeat!” The cyber-sultry, slip ‘n’ slide streetscapes that Cibo Matto cooked up with producer Mitchell Froom on their debut, “Viva! La Woman,” were about as funky as a cold shower. But that was the point. Even at their cutest, amid songs about food like “Sugar Water” and “Birthday Cake,” Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda were openly confrontational, turning from coy cuties to yowling man-eaters at the drop of a beat. There may have been a guy behind the board creating the ambience, but in front of the mikes it was two Asian post-feminist DIY beat ‘n’ rhyme junkies using the man’s tools to create violent, dissonant, lyrically dense arty-party music that rewired hip hop in the same way that Bikini Kill reinvented punk.

Sadly, Cibo Matto’s follow-up, “Stereotype A,” reduces them to ghosts in the man’s machine, disembodied dolls floating through a passionless studioscape of bossa pop, lite electro-funk and funless alt-rock produced, ironically enough, by Honda herself. When Hatori sings, “I feel I’m alone again … You are already miles away” during the mirthlessly sunny “Flowers,” she might as well be singing to her detached partner behind the board. And while the “Pet Sounds” reference in “Working for Vacation” suggests they’ve given up the hip-hop aggression of “Viva!” to chase the voguish visions of art-pop romanticism (first heard on their “Super Relax” remix project in 1997), the escapist fluff of cuts like “Spoon” and “Moonchild” is as shallow and kitschy as the similar confections of new band member Sean Lennon. Likewise, their attempts to summon venom during the sludge-rocker “Blue Train” and the admirably grating “Mortming” fall as flat as old Cristal. I always knew the women jumping on those beds were well aware of their disposability — hell, it was half of their appeal — but I never thought they’d go out like such wimps.

Jon Dolan lives in Minneapolis and writes for several publications, including Spin, City Pages and barnes& His reviews of the top albums on the Billboard 200 appear in Salon every week.

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