LUSCIOUS JACKSON/CIBO MATTO
With their new albums both these New York combos have wedged their hip-hop-derived bricolage squarely into the pop hole, sanding off with sugar most of the rough edges that made their previous work so beguiling. Luscious Jackson have been heading this way since the beginning, hiding modest hooks under jacked-up street beats, but on the new Electric Honey (Grand Royal) the fly components are actually subordinate to the soft melodies, wrapped in thick layers of keyboards and snatches of heavily treated guitar. Despite the bass line adapted from ESG's classic "Moody" on the catchy "Nervous Breakthrough," guitarist Gabby Glaser's low-key rapping (her style is based on "Rapture" by Blondie, whose desperate Deborah Harry makes a cameo on "Fantastic Fabulous"), and even some drum 'n' bass beats on "Christine," the Luscious ladies come off sounding like bandwagon hoppers--which is too bad, since in reality they helped blaze the crossover trail. Still, this uneven outing manages many giddy highs, and even the lows, like singer and bassist Jill Cunniff crooning "Bare it all because abs and buns are so much fun" on "Sexy Hypnotist," have their charms. The leap Cibo Matto have made from their wonderful debut, Viva! La Woman, to the new Stereo Type A (both on Warner Brothers) is far more dramatic. The band's core--singer Miho Hatori and keyboardist Yuka Honda, both Japanese transplants--started as something of a performance-art act, yelling cute nonsense about food over programmed music, but the shtick got old quick and the women wisely slapped together a band to tour. Now, while Hatori still does some amusing pidgin-English rapping, as on "Sci-Fi Wasabi," for the most part she's singing full-fledged melodies, and the permanent addition of Sean Lennon on bass and guitar and Timo Ellis on drums has transformed Cibo Matto into a real working band--one that mixes hip-hop, bossa nova, soul, heavy metal, funk, lounge music, and bubblegum like ice cream and pickles. On beat-driven tunes like "Working for Vacation" and "Spoon" Hatori and Honda's whimsical tendencies are countered nicely by frenetic instrumentation, but even on undilutedly sweet tunes like the jazzy "Moonchild," the elegance and complexity are consistently rewarding. Saturday, 7 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 773-472-0450 or 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Danny Clinch.