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New Optimism - Amazon to LeFrak EP Music Album Reviews

The debut EP from Cibo Matto veteran Miho Hatori builds on her former band’s experimental pop aesthetic while dialing down their quirky tendencies and moving into more mature subject matter.

When Cibo Matto called it a day for the second time, in December 2017, Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda framed the decision not as a breakup, but as the duo moving into “a new phase.” In an optimistic (if mysterious) Facebook post, they assured fans, “Our band is over but we are not going away.”

That may sound like the kind of it’s-not-you-it’s-me language we’ve come to expect from bands who are sick of living with each other’s laundry, but Amazon to LeFrak, the debut EP from Hatori’s New Optimism project, gives real meaning to their words. It is both very Cibo Matto and impressively evolved, a continuation of Hatori and Honda’s eclectic pop sound that retains the band’s stylistic experimentation while dialing down their occasionally quirky tendencies.

The diverse musical elements that made Cibo Matto a cult favorite—one that appeared on cult hit “Buffy,” no less—are all here on Amazon to LeFrak. Its sounds recreate the duo’s sonic food fight of hip-hop, jazz, funk, lounge, and soul, while Hatori’s vocals retain the dazed panache that both confused and delighted in her Cibo Matto days. But the EP casts its net even wider, adding touches of dancehall and trap to create a composite sound that is detailed without ever getting bogged down. One of the most exciting things about this release is the way in which even the smallest sounds count, be it Hatori sporadically dropping an open hi-hat into “Dr.My-Ho” or Rostam Batmanglij burying tabla drums in the mix on “Howling.” Amazon to LeFrak is the kind of record you can enjoy as a whole or endlessly pick apart as you deliberate over your favorite bassline. (Mine underlines the chorus to “Dr.My-Ho.”)

At its best, the EP rivals anything in the Cibo Matto catalog for pop-art audaciousness. “Jet Setters” is a swaggering pop song that suggests early M.I.A., but with a sense of humor, while “King of Monsters” balances tribal house rhythms with Peter Hook-esque bass lines. “Dr.My-Ho” is the standout, though, its exquisite instrumental release equal to that of Cibo Matto’s near-hit “Sugar Water” and its twinkling chorus (think Air’s “J'ai Dormi Sous L’eau” on caffeinated water) as welcoming as a cool pool water on a summer’s day. Even Amazon to Le Frak’s lesser songs are compelling: The beat on “Howling” recalls the digital groan of an MP3 glitching, while “Invisible Tan” has a synth line that stretches like chewing gum on a warm handrail.

Perhaps most importantly, for listeners who sensed a lingering whiff of novelty around her former band’s best-known songs, New Optimism’s debut is more mature and considered than Hatori’s past work. Her vocals sit snugly within the mix, rather than intruding on it, while the songs deal with adult themes like globality versus globalization (on “Jet Setters”) and ill health (on “Dr.My-Ho”). And the EP gives the overall impression that time has caught up with Hatori, as an artist and as a human. Far from being a downer, however, Amazon to LeFrak is vibrant with life and emotion—making it the perfect sing-along mix for fans ready to reckon with reality.

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