Memories Are My Only Witness
By: Eric Greenwood
The musical brains behind Cibo Matto delivers her first solo work for John Zorn's Tzadik label, and it's a diverse collection of electronic instrumentals, skimming across the tops of dance, soul, disco, funk, blues, and rock. Honda's production skills are outstanding. Each track thumps inside your chest and crossbreeds more genres than you can probably count. Honda showcased the breadth of her musical talents on Cibo Matto's 1999 pop classic, Stereotype A, and she pushes even further into experimental territory here.
The eclecticism is rarely forced or out of synch, and Honda weaves these patches of divergent styles together remarkably well. She depends heavily on electronic instrumentation, including samples, mini discs, and programmed beats, but this is not your typical "electronic music" record. It has an overwhelmingly organic feel, despite the abundance of programming. Honda's laid back style is easily recognizable, which is no small feat given the familiarity of the musical terrain traversed here.
The schizophrenic "Why Do We Mistrust The Machines We Made" is an eight-minute mind warp that must be experienced with headphones. The up beat, jazz-inflected vibe that opens the song evolves into a dark, atmospheric deconstruction, replete with strings and keyboards. The song picks itself back up again, though, recalling Western-influenced African pop. The transitions are not always so natural; however, as evidenced by the sudden tonal shifts towards the end of the song, but Honda has too much skill to allow herself to sound like a dilettante.
Honda indulges in kitchy dance pop on "You Think You Are So Generous, But…", incorporating light-hearted, tinkering melodies over big, bouncy beats. Midway through the song, an alien electric guitar sneaks in and throws your expectations off course. The song then quickly descends into a minimal synthetic meandering, which serves to remind you that this is not a record to clean the house to. Lending further evidence to that conclusion is the driving and propulsive "Sun Beam…", in which a fairly straightforward techno beat mingles with gloomy keyboards and low-end bass only to climax with a polyrhythmic permutation.
Honda is both playful and serene on jaunty snippets like "Single Silver Bullet" with its twinkling piano, silly sound effects, and unpredictable, digressive beats, which serve as transitions into the more substantive tracks. "Schwaltz" serves up a strange amalgam of jungle rhythms, jazzy excursions, and brief waltzes. The multiple layers of keyboards playing concurrent melodies raise the tension to a maddening level, which conflicts directly with the soothing sway of the waltzes lurking at the core. "The Last One To Fall Asleep With" couldn't be more dissimilar. The deep, resonating strings glide slowly while samples of choir voices lull you into a numbing stupor.
The influence of Miles Davis looms large on "Night Driving." The blue-tinted trumpet sounds affected enough to have been produced on a keyboard, and the deliberately loungey piano feeds the cliché. This track stands out more than any other does because it lacks Honda's distinctive touch until the final minute when it spaces out into a wash of flange and electronic murmurs. The album ends on an abbreviated note- in a flurry of hazy, pastel keyboards meant to evoke flashbacks that live up to its title, "Liberation #6- Leaving The Memories Behind."
Honda proves herself to be an extremely versatile and unpredictable musician on her debut solo outing. She has expanded upon the pop sensibilities of her work with Cibo Matto while taking on an even more experimental approach, cultivating her extraordinary musical amplitude. Memories Are My Only Witness is an easy-listening but difficult record- it goes down fast but makes you think about what you have ingested.