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Cibo Matto
Hotel Valentine Joe Sweeney , February 14th, 2014 05:29

Miho Hatori and Yuka C. Honda have never been ones to go with the flow. Their 1996 debut album, Viva! La Woman, was a food-obsessed avant-rap record that dared to be ridiculous at a time when full-throated earnestness - Alanis Morissette we're looking at you - was shipping millions.

The pair's second album, 1999's Stereo Type A, was a genre-hopping creative triumph that scaled back the surrealism and wiped away any semblance of 'Know Your Chicken' novelty. Cibo Matto were at the point where it seemed very possible that its next album could be a gamechanger. Unfortunately, this is when they decided to break up.

Now, a reunited Hatori and Honda attempt to realise that third-album potential. It's tough to approach Hotel Valentine without a bit of skepticism, given how marketable 1990s nostalgia is these days, and the possibility that strings of goofy non-sequiturs might not be what we want to hear from a couple of grown-ups. But if Hotel Valentine is a cash grab, it certainly doesn't feel like one. Instead of trying to recapture the magic of their formative years, Hatori and Honda have written and produced a meta-comeback record about the impulses that inspire artists to reunite.

Hatori sings from the perspective of a ghost that haunts the titular hotel. She looks in on the guests and feels overwhelmed by their expectations. She longs to be able to communicate, but when she does manage to make herself visible, she gets oyster shells thrown at her. Like so many ghost stories, this spirit sticks around because of a sense of unfinished business. She longs to come back to the world of the living, but also expresses disdain for how ignorant that world can be.

"I wonder how many people know their life is like this. Staying at the hotel, renting times, renting a body," Hatori muses on the late-album spoken-word breather 'Lobby'. It's the kind of sentiment that only has teeth when it's delivered by somebody approaching middle age, and it works to chilling effect here, especially as the preview to the one-two punch that closes the record – the ominous storm of 'Housekeeping' ("He made a big stain/But it wasn't chianti") and the fragile rise to the heavens that is 'Check Out'.

I leap toward the end of this relatively brief record (10 tracks, 38 minutes) because it's so compellingly open-ended – and arguably the most beautiful sequence in Cibo Matto's history. But doing that ignores how much fun Hatori and Honda have setting the stage. Hotel Valentine's catchiest track, 'Déjà vu', combines their trademark rubbery bass lines with spooky filtered strings and a triumphant stroll of a chorus, and cuts to the core of why musical reunions tend to be moneymakers – "Déjà vu/Don't you wanna see?" The ensuing '10th Floor Ghost Girl' is probably the most definably Cibo Matto song of the bunch, mixing chattering funk guitar with a fuzzed-out mosh chorus and some wonderfully weird lines (e.g. "Atrocity killed my big black cat.")

It all leads up to that ending, though. We're lured in by the lulling groove of 'Housekeeping', the playful vocalizing of guest Reggie Watts keeping the disquiet at bay for a little bit. But then that maid keeps saying she's going to "set us free," And then, before we know it, we're floating.