Food has long exerted control over women’s lives: Cultural expectations have held women hostage in the kitchen, and stereotypes about female beauty have complicated their relationships with edibles, giving rise to everything from miracle diets to eating disorders. Then there’s the fact that, organically speaking, from the placenta to the breast, women provide the very food that sustains human life.
Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori of the female Japanese-American duo Cibo Matto understand well the psycho-sexual grip that food has over women in our culture. But rather than be defined by this weighty socialization, Honda and Hatori assert power over it through their music. Superficially, they do so through namingcomestibles figure in eight of the 10 song titles on Viva! La Woman, their Warner Bros. debut. References to food are also present throughout the album, often with vivid sexual connotations. At one point, for example, vocalist Hatori likens her naked heart to an artichoke, one that her lover slowly peels, then marinates and burns black in the pan. On “Beef Jerky,” Hatori assumes the character of a 300-pound man who rapesand then eats carrots with!his horse; elsewhere, in an unsettling bit of Oedipal drama, she plays a mother who bakes moldy milk into a birthday cake for her 30-year-old son.
The liner notes to Viva! La Woman mention that the duo, whose name means “food madness” in Italian, cooked up the idea for the band over dinner. Nothing could be more fitting: Honda and Hatori’s debut is what you might expect if Madonna and Julia Child made a record in Tricky’s kitchenonly it’s funnier, as their mischievous subversion of the Sammy Davis Jr. hit “The Candy Man” confirms.
Musically, Cibo Matto’s playful mix of hip-hop, jazz, found sounds, and global pop exhibits the same genre-bending spirit as recent records by the Beastie Boys, Beck, and Los Lobos-offshoot The Latin Playboys. Like these forward-looking performers, Cibo Mattoespecially composer Hondaexpands the guitar-based vocabulary of indie and alternative rock with beats, grooves, and offbeat samples that actually manage to say something new. Honda and Hatori place a premium on keeping their recipes fresh, so much so that the following lines from “Le Pain Perdu” could be their musical statement of purpose: “We’ve got to get out/To get out the hell out/Got to get me out of here/Before it goes stale.”
Honda and Hatori have little to worry about in the originality department. Just the way they work exotica into their music sets them apart from even their most visionary peers. The surreal “Sugar Water” combines Astrud Gilberto’s Bossa Nova with Ennio Morricone, “Le Pain Perdu” samples Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” and “Theme” burns with the smoldering rhythms of Machito and his Afro Cuban Jazz Ensemble.
Viva! La Woman is fairly cinematic in scope. A loosely structured concept album, its 10 songs hang together like a tale of international intrigue, only one that owes more to La Femme Nikita than to James Bond. “Theme,” with its swinging spy movie soundtrack, is the record’s crowning moment. The song’s opening scene, set in Milan, begins with Hatori sitting in an outdoor café observing the way her high heel steps on a man’s shadow. Even though he looks her up and down like a restaurant menu, she’s quick to turn the tables. Once she catches the scent of his cappuccino and relates how their chance meeting turns her blood Chianti-red, the ensuing romantic encounter takes place on her terms. “Theme” is a liberating odyssey through the worlds of food, sex, power, and control; like the rest of Viva! La Woman, it fully lives up to the record’s dauntless title.
Cibo Matto opens an all ages show with Butthole Surfers Sunday Nov. 3 at 328 Performance Hall.
Walton Goggins for Fox. Claire Danes, if you squint, for Barry.
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