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By Brian Sidler – Former Music Writer for Chicago Music Magazine
Hellooooo babies, me again. Got something special for ya’s…
We spend a lot of time online. We’re constantly monitoring the NEWS reports. It’s what we do here in the alternative NEWS media universe. We follow the music as well, lots of it. Once a music junkie, always a music junkie. Can’t seem to shake that bug. It’s comin’ up on the hot season again here in Mexicali. I have the AC ready to rip.
6 years ago my cohorts and I set out on a quest. To change the sound of the market. We were very clever about it. Influence the execs in such a way so they can claim it was their idea. Them who had made the decision. Funny thing, all we had to do is call them what they were, a bunch of dumb tasteless pigs. Shocked we would do such a thing, then all we had to do was let them hear the vibe the way it should sound. Cool, huh? These days they’re tearing their hair out because they’re losing their grips on the market once and for all…hurray for the revolution, THE INTERNET! If you’re a stock speculator, wait a while longer then short the whole entertainment sector.
Now…we were tired of the rap and hip hop crowds, who are now by the way, trying to masquerade as mainstream R&B. They were pilfering the attentions of young America through mainstream corporate run conglomerates intent on denigrating their sense of good taste and morals. Don’t get me wrong, before it was the rap crowd there were several incarnations of things masquerading as various niche markets in the Rock universe which had watered down the imaginations listening as well. To be fair, they were running alongside each other simultaneously since around 1983. However, rap, coming from the gnawing underbelly of the Chicago ghetto had been dominant from around 95 through around, say 2006, on the late night magazine shows in America. Now, it’s gone. Good riddance!
Be that as it may, a new graduation class of seniors were glombing onto the words of the music writers calling bands, this kind of band and that kind of band using names like Death Metal, Alternative, Punk, Speed Metal, Hair Bands…oh…all this stuff. All the producers and engineers bought into it too, for cripes sake. Of course, it was all BS because it doesn’t describe anything real, or escape the main heading, Rock. The other thing is that each of these stratifications became associated to manners of dress invented by each new teen group, who were all striking a pose or identity. This in turn led to clothing manufacturers making a bundle pandering to the fashion statements of teens, especially the girls. One big commercial hodgepodge of meaningless identity statements accompanying the music recordings by bands trying to define themselves within each niche. Funny thing, in the end the marketing departments screwed themselves up so bad they don’t know which way to turn anymore. So anyway…some blond celebrity would dress a certain way, and like lambs to slaughter, pubescent girls swooned to the beats, music and fashion. To heck with the content, it was all following a hedonist vibe mostly. Insipid lyrics describing popular new mood sentiments. Facts remain, nothing was new at all. Nothing. Ya just never know what the minds of pubescent teens are going to invent next as identity, and that has always stymied the marketers.
Then there’s the music description called Pop. Pop, the shortened word for popular, that’s all, simple. However, what makes it’s way through all these “themes” or music scenes are the use of snare drums defining the accents and bass lines laying the bottom floor out, for an imagination to capture the sound of the mood. Layer that with some kind of processor effecting the keyboards and guitars, vocals, and there you have it. Four minute music landscapes laced with words for temporary aural escape. Songs. Never does it not sound like Rock. So calling Katy Perry pop is meaningless to me.
Rock is what it is. It’s so pervasive and all encompassing. If that snare is on the two beat of a measure, that’s it. You can argue the point with me all you want, you can’t win it. Dance music? Well that truly is a horse of another color, and it hasn’t changed since ’75. The Soul Funk thing, it’s on the one.
A true music critic is the competition kids. There’s plenty of cheer leaders out there. You’re in the wrong place for that. This is The Critical Post – Chicago – Capitol of the Midwest Coast!
Here’s The Review
Now, I’ll tell you I’m a stupefied sucker for a good commercial sound. I love atmospherics in my music landscape which brings me to the subject of my review, the band…Kotadama. Kotadama, a Japanese word for the spirit of words. Words are heavy things, man. Kotadama is atmospherics city.
When music is used to uplift the soul rather than the opposite, I firmly believe that’s its purpose. Otherwise life would be so dreary I couldn’t stand it. Only an addled idiot would want to listen to songs that depress, and oddly enough there’s plenty of them out there, and no I don’t get it, but anyway…
I received this album in my mailbox, along with a few others I’ll be writing about shortly. It’s called, Dichotomy by the aforementioned. I don’t get the title…but then that’s artistic license and I accept it. There I was, faced with listening…so OK I dropped the needle on the sucker, and what do ya know, I liked it. Me, Brian Sidler, the biggest music snob in the music universe liked a new album, can you believe that? I couldn’t. Even though it is demonstrably played to be a commercial piece, which also goes against my grain, I liked it!
So I hopped on over to their web site and found this image. Actually, I remember seeing it once or twice before…who’d have thunk it?
Meanwhile the album needle is still on the platter…ok so it’s a laser, who cares?
Well, well…I thought, here’s a couple young bucks the girls will love. That’s good, says me…girls liking music is important for a band trying to make it. Girls love spending moolah on the next hearthrobs, it’s been that way since Sinatra. That way they can all go to the concert and swoon. Oh, it’s such fun, ya know…
Kotadama, definite heartthrobs.
So then, I’m reading about these young cats, because it’s my job, see. Need the info in hand to do the writing so I can entise all you readers out there who actually love music for what it should be, and to get behind something I like. However, not only do I like these guys, but there is a consensus building for this act.
I find out that one day, they, Evan and Chris Brown from the land of OZ, decided to stop doing their daily grind and learn to play instruments because they figured playing music was a better way to make money than paying attention to the stock markets. Wow, I thought…well that’s a bold departure that makes no sense. I mean really, have you ever tried to start a band? I wouldn’t wish that idea on a flea bitten dog! Also, music in it’s purest form is not about making oogles of cash, it’s about uplifting the spirits of those in need of a break from the humdrum way life seems to be these days, or all the days past for that matter. Being on the stage for attention, that’s another thing entirely. Yet, I also learned that this is a “first” effort. Hmmm…I thought.
These days I pay attention to what effect music has on social culture throughout the planet. So, and all of my followers over the years know, I am all in favor of getting culture off the nihilism kick that’s been coming from the recording dungeons in LA, NYC and London. Seemingly, Kotadama in spirit agrees with that. For that reason alone I dig them!
Here’s a couple of young writers that have classical leanings. I LIKE IT! Most of the cuts start with keyboard driven synth riffs or string patches that begin to define the landscape for the lyrics to ride on. I like that, too. Not on every track, mind you, it begins to be too predictable, and that’s bad…predictable. Not good.
Lead singer Chris Evans has an excellent tenor voice distinct enough to separate him from the crowd. He sings a bit through his nose sometimes, which ain’t my cup of tea so much, however it’s been in fashion with this younger crop for about the last 15 years. Lots of them do it. He should learn to refocus it because there’s a voice in that body that wants to come out and blare like a trumpet.
I dig a little deeper into the info…
In 2009 these cats had a chart topping hit on an open air radio station out of the central state New York area. They beat out Gaga (read blah blah) and the rest of the female stars at the time. Not bad. Not bad at all. The single “See You Tonight” hung out for a few weeks there. Next thing you know they’re getting invitations to play in different countries as a result of their Sonic Bids entry. Japan, India, the UK, New Zealand, of course, being they’re from OZ, and all the music writers everywhere are saying this band is the next “big thing” to come down the pipe. Well that shows you what music writers mean anymore to most folks…a whole ot of nothin’, especially when they’re always, always cheer leading. It’s kind of like the financial writers for the worlds markets. Meaning, it’s all bull! Malarky, monkey business.
Then…they win some competitions. They’re getting noticed by heavy hitting producers in the US like the venerated David Kershenbaum and so forth. They’re getting their tunes picked up for consideration by various catalog houses who pitch the industry for film and TV. Great job these kids were doing. Real hard workers.
They’re making videos, homespun and full pro. They look good on the camera. The image plays.
Finally, I get to the end of the album. I did let it spin all the way through, once.
Now, here’s the gig…
You go to this page on their web site, this one right here, and you see all this incredible marketing they did. What a great work ethic, and that’s what it takes. Well, it almost reads like a who’s who, there’s so much of it, it’s unbelievable…but…and there’s always one of those, NO POP! No phenomenon. What gives? Lack of exposure? Not really…
So you wanna make it in America, eh? Here’s a band that proves the axiom that the Internet is attention deficit disorder on steroids to the max. It’s not their fault, it’s the biggest TV station the world has ever seen. There’s so much competition for traffic it’s stupid, crazy. Think about it, there’s over eleven billion websites on the net. These days, audience attention phenomenon is demonstrated at it’s finest on You Tube. That’s where everyone is. Especially the youth audience. They like their TV in short doses. Talk about attention deficit, holy smokes! Why do you think Google bought it? Pretty smart move if you ask me.
You want to see phenomenon? Look at this right here, 115,000,000 views and over 345,000 subscribers to their channel in six months. Six Months! That’s Vazquez Sounds. Tommy Matola was all over this, and Abelardo Sr. held him at an arms distance. They netted a Sony distribution deal straight out of the gate, without one original penned! We know this family, and I’m real good friends with the uncle of these youngsters. I’m standing right next to it. I’m in the loop. Yet, you’d think that with 115,000,000 views in just six months, American pop culture TV would be all over this. Entertainment Tonight and all the rest. NOPE! It’s a different world friends.
Back to Evan and Chris from Kotadama.
We went looking further and found this video:
Great stuff guys! I mean really…absolutely GREAT! Finally someone who had a concept to capture this band in the rawest look possible, which shows a kind of animal magnetism for the lead singer and his brother the drummer. Super! Great production and a great tune. This image of all the ones you guys put together is our favorite, other than your web site cover photo. The video helps this tune come alive. However, that’s also the problem.
Now for the album tracks.
Here’s my problem after all is said and done. It’s also why, Kotadama is not getting the kind of action they’d like to see. Believe me, in another day and time, what they’ve done would have been enough. Say about 20 to 25 years ago. Yet, they’re young in their career. They’re going to improve, and we figure, it will be a few more efforts and learning an array of different dynamics before this band really takes off. They need to expand their palette, and who they’re influenced by without betraying those influences and that’s where innovation plays a big role in writing. U2 is a fine act. Still, that’s them…The Edge’s guitar effect is HIS thing. You can’t copy it and expect to be heralded as an icon.
This band, along with the millions of others in the competition, have a harder road to climb because of the time frame they’re in. It’s been about sixty plus some odd years since Rock came onto the scene as the most enduring cultural phenomenon the world of recorded music has ever known! You name the effects that you can put to an instrument or vocal, it’s been used millions of times. So the palette then that still stands out as the only place to distinguish a tune is melody sung by a kicking vocal. Sure, solo improv is another contributing element to an overall track performance. Yet, melody and lyric content is what separates the greats from all the rest. While you’re at it, check out one of McCartney’s last compositions in the tune My Valentine from his latest album Kisses On The Bottom. Epic. How ’bout the tune, Been Caught Stealing from Jane’s Addiction? Or their own mates, Men At Work. Those are all distinct vibes.
The noise a band makes, their overall sound that sets them apart as being different is what defines an acts existence or failure to endure as an ongoing stage act, and beyond. If you ain’t got your very own vibe, you’re toast.
This band is too, too un-different. Even so, I still like them a heck of a lot because I know, they’ve some great instincts and it works. They’re go-getters. They’ll emerge stronger as time wears on, as long as they mature in their ability to write memorable themes that put forward their distinct vibe, and they’ve got it in them to do it. They haven’t hit a groove yet, but I know they’ll get there, and I’M A FAN…period. They have great physical images to work with, and part of what their coming stardom will be built upon. Still, they haven’t learned to edit themselves. Also, they don’t have an editor, yet, in their crew.
I’ve listened to this album cut after cut, and I still can’t sing one of the melodies in my head all the way through. You’d never want to hear my real singing voice, believe me. Even our favorite video escapes me at the moment in terms of the melody and words. We do highly recommend the cut though, it’s called…Endure. It’s got a great edge to it, and…it’s Rock. The lyric is a good message, and lots of people need it.
There’s plenty of people who think these guys are great. That’s only going to grow.
There’s plenty of music writers out there who play to the hype, which doesn’t describe a critique, it’s only there to try and BS the audience. Not that these guys don’t deserve some hype, because they do. The Rock audience is smarter than these music writers think. They can smell hype a mile away. They try to describe an act in terms of who previously had made the noise, and that’s an absolute insult, to the band…and to the audience. It helps to denigrate the music from a band, not elevate it!
Guys, when you write to fill an album, a listener needs to go on a journey. Imagine this; if you’re driving in a car for a whole day, and there’s no bends in the road, a flat landscape and nothing new for your eyes to find, what happens to your attention for the outside world? Naturally, it turns inward. You may even close your eyes, if you’re in the passenger seat, just to escape the monotony of the input around you. You live in OZ. I bet it’s no fun taking a highway trip through the flat lands, right? When you’re driving in the mountains around the curves you have to pay attention to what you’re doing, right? An audience wants discovery as part of their trip, man.
The point is…this album only has one pace. Each piece of it is a stand alone piece, per se, and should have been used effectively, spread over many different albums. This album is one speed. To be sure, there’s plenty of folks who’ll like the vibe and the tunes, we do…and that’s going some, believe me. Now, I haven’t really counted the keys you’re in but there’s only two or three, max. Track 3 and 4 are too similar to stack them next to each other. That’s not good. Song order and momentum is key to making a listener hang with you. It’s also the key in making an album sale instead of just a single.
Audience folk, this next few lines is for the people in the biz, you can skip this. Don’t get us wrong, we’d buy the album because of the personalities involved and the sounds they’re making. We’re fans of the band Kotadama.
Now, for a moment here I want to get to the producer/engineer who says he’s helping Kotadama. This very gifted duo with support from some real good mates.
You’re losing your grip kiddo. I heard no magic from your dials these kids couldn’t have done for themselves. You may be able to twist knobs and get the best excitement out of a wave form, and that’s cool. Screw the awards, that’s all in the past. If you’re not pushing your client to get to the next level for the next song, you’re killing their ability to get out of the gate. Killing it! They’re depending on you for leadership and musical direction, and they didn’t get it. You just sat there in your chair and poured on the charm. Nothing wrong with being charming, mind you. However, you knew this album had no pace, and you let it happen anyway. Well that’s not a help. Remember Harry Nilson? You’re old enough, think about it. Don’t get where I’m comin’ from? Then just retire and quit resting on your laurels and taking money for it. All you’re doing is giving our people a bad name. You’re perpetuating it. Fool.
Everyone, and I mean everyone in LA, London and NYC like to boast their credits. Audiences don’t care who the producer/engineer is, they only know the experience of the song, and that’s what they care about. Biz folks, and producer/engineers, especially, would like musician/writers to believe that having their name associated to your tracks is what it takes to get the attention of program directors worldwide in the radio biz, or the corporate structures of the A&R departments. That’s their racket. It keeps the cash flowing and the electricity on. Well, bull! Period…bull! Have you heard what the market has sounded like since 74? It sounded like crap! You were part of it. The streets of Chicago where I come from is littered with folks who fell for your routines. You’re gear monkeys renting your space and past rep for too much money and not enough biz influence…these days. Rockin’ the needles and pumping through tubes is great, ain’t it? Trash the Nieves, man. Except for yourself, this new audience can’t here ‘em with ear buds. Sheeesh… Meanwhile, it’s still up to the guy who has to sell those tracks to get the ball rolling, most times. That ain’t you brother. Screw the corporate infrastructure that you’ve been pandering to. They’ve almost entirely screwed themselves out of the biz, and they’re panicking, and you know it! If they didn’t have the usual rip-off routine going or their old publishing catalogs, they’d be finished already. So cut the crap! It might have worked forty years ago, but that business model is long gone. LONG GONE! Stupid jerks! They don’t know what, or how to buy, anymore than they did for all the years up to the present. No adventure, just sit back and wait for the audience to vote these days, play it safe, right? Well…besides, the Brits are better than most anyone from the American engineering school. They’re warm and you’re cold.
‘Nuff said there…
Kotadama is an act that has yet come anywhere near their peak. These mates are just getting started. As a first ever effort, all the way around, this was a stupendous debut considering where they came from and how far they’ve gone in terms of being picked up by catalog houses. Absolutely stupendous! Eric and Chris Brown are talents just beginning to roll friends. That’s the promise they hold for their hard fought for, slowly burgeoning fandom.
On the other hand, now it’s time to grow in the writers craft. Think about it. There’s stories of mystery, cunning, delight, wonderment, awe inspiring sights, majesty and the great beyond…beyond. That’s where the musician/writer displays imagination for lyric and the musical landscape to profess those words in song. Puppy love is cool too…but there’s so much more than that, isn’t there? You’re already natural born arrangers, now quit imitating and start innovating. I-N-N-O-V-A-T-E! Think..time signatures for a start. Think guitar and keyboard effect processing in the same breath. Synthesize something new. You can do it!
There’s all these folks, see. They call themselves HIT songwriters. They want you to believe there’s a secret formula for a HIT. They sell you their coaching and other wares to make a living, playing the carrot on the stick routine in front of a donkey’s nose. Bull…the secret is the audience. Your ability to hold their attention is what will separate you from your peers, period. It’s all about the vibe, babes. An album is a journey, not a bunch of singles thrown onto the platter. Hey, can you make them fall in musical rapture? There’s your ticket.
Now get out on that stage and tell the people the truth, and you don’t have to show off with all those contorted rock poses to do it. Just play the epic cut, man. Stand up there and kill ‘em with your sound. Get your own sound, first. It all starts with a vocal and a melody.
DICHOTOMY – DEBUT ALBUM FROM THE BAND KOTADAMA – BUY IT! THEY’LL BE BACK FOR ANOTHER ROUND SOON WITH A SECOND OFFERING.
The Critical Post – Chicago – Capitol of the Midwest Coast – APPROVES!
Never believe your press guys, you’ll be lost if you do.
I’m Brian Sidler and I write about music, et al.