Matt & Kim

Fader, 2012

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


It’s so hard not to love Matt & Kim. Their sound is absolutely infectious, Matt Johnson’s joyous vocals pairing with a surfeit of synths and Kim Schifino’s frenzied drumming. After striking gold with the unabashed enthusiasm of 2009’s “Daylight,” the duo released their third album, Sidewalks, which hit No. 30 on the Billboard charts. And for good reason: Sidewalks found Matt & Kim polishing up their sound and throwing in some hip-hop beats, creating a lightning-fast album that also added some depth to their signature levity. It was the sound of a band refining their sound and maturing while still retaining their innate optimism.

Unfortunately, their latest release finds them taking a step sideways rather than ahead. Things start out deceptively strong with lead single “Let’s Go,” which would have set an excellent tone for the rest of the album. It’s classic Matt & Kim, all soaring “ooh ooh ooooh”s and coiled flutters of synths ready to explode; it’s paced well, too, ebbing and flowing from the pepped-up synths to spare piano chords. It’s not anything new, to be sure, but it’s always an enjoyable formula.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But from there, most of Lightning feels somewhat off-kilter. Second track “Now” is a veritable avalanche of drums and electronic backbeats, but the urgency of the instrumentation is paired with a chorus that consists only of the title repeated over and over, with some mediocre lyrics in between (“And I know that things aren’t perfect / Socks with holes no one noticed”). “It’s Alright,” “Not That Bad,”  and “I Said” follow the same rabbit hole down to averageness – they’re still ridiculously listenable because of Matt & Kim’s ability to craft crackling pop tracks, but the lyrics leave a lot to be desired. They’ve never been too concerned with lyrics, usually preferring instead to throw together a pastiche of phrases that add up to a general seize-the-day sentiment. But songs like “Daylight” or “Cameras” show how cohesive they can be, and it makes the songs on Lightning fall short in comparison.

It becomes hard to tell the songs here apart at times, something ominous for such a short album; it barely clocks in at a half hour, and I can come up with about three or four songs of the ten that hold up to anything in their discography. “Overexposed” is fun and charming road trip tale, typical with its sugary synths and driving pace, but lines like “Break all your bones / Before they’re grown / You’ll never pay off / All of your loans” add in some darkness that’s atypical of such a seemingly lighthearted musical vision, and it would be a cool area for them to keep exploring lyrically rather than just repeating their song titles ad nauseum.

Meanwhile, penultimate cut “I Wonder” offers the most unique vision musically; it’s strange, skittering, and stilted, but in a way that works, weirdly enough. The refrain “I wonder what I would have become” moves from reflective to almost eerie over the choppy beats, twinkling pianos, and airy synths.

To be honest, it pains me a little to write a negative review of Matt & Kim. When I saw them live in Baltimore a couple years back when they were touring Sidewalks, it was one of the freshest, most invigorating shows I’ve ever been to. And I bet a lot of the material here would translate better to the live setting, where the duo is able to truly unleash all their energy and spirit, enveloping the crowd in that wash of pure joy. But that just doesn’t make it to disc here. The couple of tracks that do work are a flash of Lightning indeed, but one that’s all too quick.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2012 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Fader, and is used for informational purposes only.