There are very few artists with whom I endear so much trust that I will purchase an album without even previewing it. dZihan & Kamien were one band, along with dZihan’s wife, the singer Madita. D&K’s distinctive blend of Austrian/jazz/turkish/lounge music was ever-present during my youth in high school and early college, informing a lot of my musical taste. When Vlado dZihan married Madita and they recorded a record together, it was a great fusion of live-band bossa nova and D&K’s signature eastern/trip-hop ambience. Even with her second album, “Too”, those signature elements were still present, although subdued in some songs under heavy glam 80’s techno sounds. This combination wasn’t bad at all, in fact, there were many standouts on that album and it ranks as one of my favorites.
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But it seems all good things must end. Last year, D&K released their first album since 2002’s masterfully jazzy Gran Reserva. As I mentioned before, I bought “Music Matters” without hesitation. Even while keeping my expectations in check, after the initial glee of having a new album to play wore off, I realized they had released a collection of meaningless pop dribble. Not only had they completely abandoned their jazzy electro roots, they indulged in a lot of what’s worse about modern pop. I’m a drummer, but even I can identify cheesy and cliche chord progressions and rhythmic structures.
The lyrics are even worse. Before, if they had vocals at all, they were carefully cast singers or sampled sound bites from vintage sources, mysterious out of context, which added quite a bit to the depth of the songs. In 2002, Madita sang on Gran Reserva with her lost-in-translation word structures that left the deciphering and meaning up to the listener. However, on “Music Matters”, a cast of bland vocalists recite lyrics so egregiously shallow they begin to hurt your ears. “It’s over, tell me why’d you even bother to call. It’s over, and I need to get away from it all.” Kill me now.
There are two or three tracks that are stronger. Most notably “Worm” which sounds like it could have been co-written by Madita (maybe it was). “Dolby” is one of the few songs that slightly carries through their legacy sound with it’s driving, chopped base line and evocative layering.
In the end, you have to consider why such a brazen title as “Music Matters” was assigned to a collection of work that is so incredibly devoid of meaning.
None of this would really matter if it didn’t hint at a larger problem. Just two weeks ago, Madita released her third album. “Pacemaker” takes all of the glam 80’s electro elements from “Too” and mixes it with the bland pop of “Music Matters”. It’s pretty clear she’s taking cues from bands that play on the speakers of gag-inducing glitz clothing stores one would find in every mall (the store Forever 21 comes to mind). The song “Runaway” is a replication of the band Cut Copy’s signature style, complete with a distinctive splashes of 80’s rhythm guitar that Cut Copy effectively incorporated into their album “In Ghost Colors”.
But where Cut Copy and M83 succeeded, Madita falls flat. The songs are not evocative. After the first listen, you’ve heard it all. Even the lyrics are no longer interesting, her distinctive structure is gone; either she’s gotten really fluent in English, or she’s suffering dZihan & Kamien’s mutual “let’s appeal to the lowest common denominator and make a quick buck” creative block.
This regression from evokative to bland is troubling. It’s a shame. If I ever was a fanboy for any artist, it was Madita. I still love her first two albums, and dZihan & Kamien’s earlier works will forever be engrained in my conscious. I won’t be pre-ordering any future releases from them, however. I can only hope that their new populist sound brings them greater financial success so they can return to their creative roots.