REVIEW BY: Melanie Love
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/11/2010
There are few artists as impossible to dislike as Matt & Kim, and their latest album, Sidewalks, is another entry into their eminently good-natured, glossy, and danceable catalog of pop-punk. Not a lot has changed from their previous releases, Grand and Matt & Kim, but why mess with a good thing? Husband-wife duo Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino is endlessly pumped up and cheerful, and at the heart of all these songs is genuine goodwill. This isn’t snarling, devil-may-care punk, but jubilant tunes centered on thick swaths of synthesizers and a restless, joyous energy. They’ve moved steadily towards a poppier sound with each subsequent release, toning down the rawness and expanding their songs past two minutes of explosive emotion, but not to the extent that they ever alienate their diehard fans. And perhaps that’s because the essential spirit of Matt & Kim is always retained, along with the sense that this duo just loves what they’re doing.
On Sidewalks, the one noticeable change is that the songs are getting thicker and more tricked-out. It’s incredible, at times, to remember that this is just two people jamming: Kim pounding the drums and Matt handling the synths along with his endearingly nerdy, nasal vocals. Take opener “Block After Block,” which instantly draws you in with its shimmering hooks, hand claps, and tempo changes. It’s so easy to imagine these songs being played live – and in a way, it’s almost a shame to confine Matt & Kim to disc, since their sound thrives on the rawness and warmth a live show can provide. There’s a cleanness and professionalism to the production on Sidewalks, a sense that Matt & Kim is exploring the depths and possibilities of their sound.
What’s most endearing about the songs here is that this isn’t cheesy, throwaway pop. The songs here are catchy and will inevitably get stuck in your head, but there’s substance to them, too. On lead single “Cameras,” Matt sings, “No time for cameras / We’ll use our eyes instead / I see flashes of gold” – simple and poignant, just like when he proclaims “Let’s make love so big / Make sure it can’t be missed!” on the ineffable, rollicking “Red Paint.”
And even when Matt & Kim branch out into longer songs, like on the four-minute “Where You’re Coming From,” they maintain the same energy, intermixing pulsing blips of synths and choruses that are just begging to be sung along to at a live show. It’s only when they strip away the vigor and inexorable pacing that things go a bit awry, like on “Northeast,” which has a syrupy slow pace, plodding piano, and bells but none of what makes Matt & Kim likeable and listenable. Thankfully, the pace picks right back up with “Wires,” a fan favorite that’s been played at live shows for a couple of years before finally making it to an album. Kim’s drum pounding is overlaid with slippery synths, while the song’s refrain – sung in harmony – is as resonant as it is catchy: “Cut and cross wires, electric fires / Reset your clocks and rewrite your thoughts / It’s burning down, let’s keep it up / Flames they grow strong, the louder the song.”
Sidewalks may have an extra polish to it that Matt & Kim’s previous two releases didn’t, but the heart at the core of this disc is exactly the same. This duo is earnest and passionate, and that comes through in spades in their music. Just try to resist these songs – they’ve made it as difficult as ever with the sheer enthusiasm that seeps through each and every track on this disc.