September 30, 2012

Album Review: Matt and Kim's Lightning

Matt and Kim mean well, and it's hard to argue that the level of success from which they've grown since their humble DIY beginnings as stalwarts in Todd P's Williamsburg basement circuit to becoming the de facto face of the MTVU generation is not at all deserved. Two geeky kids making fans dance while sending out positive vibes in a colorful hybrid of synth and punk is the definition of a good time. With bombastic pop and perpetual smiles brandished like weapons, their 2010 Ben Allen-produced effort Sidewalks upped the fun by combining it with Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino's fondness for anthemic hip-hop. Bold, catchy and inoffensive across all genres, Matt and Kim perfected a youth-minded sound perfect for both headlining packed club shows or filling arena seats before blink-182 took the stage. The problem seen off in the distance, however, is as Matt and Kim stretched the buck as a peppy small-time drum and keyboard act, there would eventually come a point where the party came to a halt. Lightning, the band's fourth studio effort, is where the Brooklyn indie duo strikes out.

No musician wants to be accused of coming off as insincere, but you can only write the same posi core words into a song so many ways before the message becomes desensitized. It's unfortunate that Matt and Kim have unintentionally turned repetitive uplifting lyrics into a gimmick the fourth time around, but it's equally the music's fault for that. Lightning -- which was recorded in their home studio and thus, features a dwarfed-down production -- consists of half-baked tracks that struggle to reach the infectious levels of anthemry listeners have come to expect from the bright-eyed indie poppers. At its best, album starters "Let's Go" and "Now" are shells of "Daylight" and "Yea Yeah" while the rest of the LP is a buffet of B-side quality material that could have very well made its way onto any former Matt and Kim effort. "It's Alright," "Tonight" and "Much Too Late" are three tracks that at least see the duo attempting to sound fresh and again bust out their inner Roc-A-Fella, but through all the synth dance sirens and jock jam breakdowns, you have to wonder if self-awareness as a beloved live act is causing them to concentrate too heavily on appeasing crowd participation rather than writing engaging hooks.

This isn't a path Matt and Kim should look to continue on if they're hoping to maintain relevance in the trend-conscious indie spectrum. An obvious takeaway here that might ultimately spell doom down the road for the duo's future is their inability to grow up with their audience, instead catering to young college listeners still tugging onto their pop punk playlists before they trade them in for a refined and "mature" Pitchfork-esque palette. Lightning in a way marks the end of an era for what has become a worn out cliché of Williamsburg music scene jokes. Taking into account 2012 has already served up excellent modernized versions of danceable indie pop with heart in the form of Passion Pit's Gossamer, Hot Chip's In Our heads and Grimes' Visions, it's obvious listeners still want to cut a rug, but hope to have something deeper to think about while doing so, too, making Matt and Kim's Lightning one of the year's most unnecessary releases. Hate to say it, but the best thing that could happen to Brooklyn's perpetually positive and smiley-faced heroes is if someone smacked those grins right off their faces.

Matt and Kim's Lightning will be released October 2, 2012 on FADER Label.

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