Kotadama: Dichotomy – CD Review
In 2007, Australian songwriting brothers Chris and Evan Brown formed “Kotadama” (Japanese for word-spirit) as a new creative outlet and according to their website, this is after touring the world as competitive ballroom dancers and dabbling on the stock market!
The album opens with a catchy synthesized string and drum machine arrangement. “Destinations” has a hooky melodic vocal appropriate to the genre with a simplistic and easily accessible lyric, which would definitely appeal to the 12 to 18 year old demographic. The second song, “Three Simple Words” carries on the commercial vibe of the opener with another polished backdrop of sound. The voice is a tad over-emphasized and is very similar in style to Richard Marx. Here, the lyrics again will easily connect with teenagers and it’s not hard to picture the girls singing along in their mirrors with their hairbrushes in hand! By the third song I was hoping for a change in feel, however, I was quite surprised to find a song in the same key and similar tempo. Indeed even the phrasing in the chorus has certain similarities, which made me wonder if it was the same song with different words. The fourth song “See You Tonight” shows some promise as a potential single and here it’s the first time that Chris attempts a vocal harmony which certainly helps to lift the track a little. The distinctive picked guitar-work of “The Edge” from U2 is very apparent as an influence in the sixth song “As I am”. This is another strong song from the brothers and a definite radio-friendly unit shifter, combining sequenced harp lines and string parts to produce that epic pop sound. The title track “Dichotomy” opens with a sequenced flute sound and power-chord on the guitar. The brothers have tried to step out of their comfort zone with an attempt at a more complicated drum pattern on the sequencer. This track is a breath of fresh air as it stands apart from the more formula-led previous tracks, and when the rhythm section drops-out for the breakdown we get a sense of some dynamics.
Dichotomy is an excellent choice for an album title but it’s a real shame that they missed the opportunity to play with it and explore some more interesting subject matter. The lyrics on this album are largely one-dimensional and extremely safe. Of course, it could be argued that given their target audience the words to the songs are entirely appropriate. I was also disappointed in the extremely over-produced sound. The over use of sequencing and especially the pitch-correction on every single vocal, means that much of the expression has been squeezed out of the songs. Music should be dynamic, gutsy and earthy not clinically precise and flattened. With so much talent, these musicians need to ease back off the controls, take a few risks, and let a few humanizing mistakes come through. They obviously have friends on hand to perform the songs live – so how about recording real bass and drums instead of leaving it all to the computer?
These brothers obviously know how to craft a song and their strong suite clearly lies in the commercial selling power of the music and voice. They are more bubble-gum, pin-up style, boy-band than groundbreaking, boundary-pushing bohemians but I’m sure the girls will go crazy for their good looks and accessible songs. They are trying hard to have a serious edge to their style, perhaps reminiscent of A-ha, and I’m wondering which of their influences this is coming from? The songs definitely demonstrate their musical talents and with the right promotional backing could certainly reach a wider audience. I just hope that they build on their songwriting achievements and complete the obligatory “difficult second album” whilst learning from the production problems of “Dichotomy”. I certainly wish the boys every success with their music.
This review was written by Neil Thomas for the Rock n Roll View.