A project from musical and marital partners Nels Cline and Yuka C. Honda, CUP is a delightfully strange affair that merges exploratory improvisations for guitar, percussion, electronics, and voice with more structured art-pop songwriting. While the two New Yorkers have performed and recorded together in a couple of different formats over the years, they make their formal debut as a duo here with Spinning Creature, a seven-track outing on the Northern Spy label. Outside of being Wilco's guitarist (easily his most visible gig), Cline has been a fixture of outsider music since the 1980s, nimbly applying his collaborative expertise to facets of avant-garde and punk while leading a variety of his own jazz combos. After moving to the U.S. from Japan, Honda established her own reputation among New York's experimental and noise rock scenes before blowing up in the mid-'90s as one half of food-describing indie pop heroes Cibo Matto. Aside from being married to each other, the duo's artistic chemistry makes a lot of sense; both are versatile musicians who've kept a toe in the pop world, but seem happiest letting the sparks fly in a more undefined environment. As CUP, their musical personalities mingle in just the right amount of push and pull, resulting in a playful, sometimes off-putting set that seems to emphasize their individual approaches in a way that still feels harmonious. Over Honda's lush but fractured soundscapes and glistening chimes, Cline opens Spinning Creature with a series of dreamy vocal incantations and, of all things, a bamboo flute solo, lending an almost meditative air to the sublime "Every Moment." The eerie jazz-glitch rhythm of "Berries" has Honda's fingerprints all over it, as do the loopy dance beats and headphone-thrilling sound design of "Soon Will Be Flood." Woozy closer "As Close as That" features some extremely tasteful and subtle guitar work from Cline while Honda lays a cloudy synth bed underneath and plays in the margins. Whenever one or the other's individual traits becomes apparent, its partner is there in the background, supporting and anticipating the next move. The two come together most soundly on the album's title cut, an artful gem of circular folktronic pop with a curiously inviting melody sung in unison. Pleasantly weird without being pretentious, CUP defy easy categorization and their debut pops like the collision of two beloved nonconformists.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger