Cibo Matto

Hotel Valentine

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Cibo Matto's 2014 return with Hotel Valentine -- their first album in 15 years -- was one of the more unexpected reunions of '90s acts. After all, both Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori had busy schedules throughout the 2000s and 2010s: Honda worked as a solo artist and with the Plastic Ono Band, while Hatori collaborated with Beck, Gorillaz, the Beastie Boys, and a host of other well-known artists. On their third album as a duo, it's clear that they reunited not out of a need for attention, but because they enjoy making music together. The pair had the mixed blessing of releasing one of the definitive albums of the '90s, Viva! La Woman, as their debut; their follow-up, Stereo Type A, suffered by comparison largely because it wasn't a repeat of their first album. By the time Hotel Valentine appeared, the duo's eclectic sound wasn't as revolutionary as it had been nearly two decades before, but it wasn't dated enough to seem nostalgic. Fortunately, Hatori and Honda use this to their benefit, resulting in songs that feel connected to their earlier work, yet not overtly retro. It helps that this is a concept album revolving around a hotel haunted by a female ghost; it's a quirky conceit, but also one that allows Cibo Matto to use the contrast of brash and ethereal moods at the heart of their music to the fullest. Hotel Valentine is by turns funky and elegant, making a stomping entrance with "Check In" and a serene exit with "Check Out." In between, Honda and Hatori spend equal time with the different sides of their music, with half the album representing the bustling, kinetic real world and the other reflecting the afterlife of the hotel's spectral guest. Both approaches deliver entertaining results: the pretty, mercurial pop of "Déjà Vu," which features some extra-playful rapping from Hatori, is a standout from the album's louder first half, along with the grooving "10th Floor Ghost Girl" and the irresistibly bouncy "MFN," which spotlights Cibo Matto's famed love of food with its room service order of lobsters, oysters, and chocolate milk. Meanwhile, the album's trip-hop-tinged title track and "Empty Pool" showcase the duo's undimmed flair for seductive yet approachable atmospheres; more intriguingly, "Lobby" casts the hotel's waiting area as a kind of purgatory, where the ghost misses shopping and watches the living come and go with a mix of poignancy and whimsy. Indeed, Hotel Valentine might be Cibo Matto's most whimsical album yet, with a sense of fun that's contagious, particularly on the mischievous class warfare of "Housekeeping." To say that the album sounds like Hatori and Honda picked up right where they left off downplays its specialness, but there's no denying it sounds like Cibo Matto had never stopped playing together.

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