Plumbiferous Media

Sidewalks – Matt & Kim

Nov 11th 2010
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Sidewalks - Matt & KimMatt & Kim
Score: 42

Brooklyn indie duo Matt & Kim, made up quite appropriately of Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino, was founded in 2004. Since then, the band has created its own colorful style, combining indie and dance elements for an alternately club-friendly rhythmic sound and a more complex approach. The group’s latest album, Sidewalks, released on the 2nd, demonstrates the group’s style fairly well, but without taking any substantial steps forward, resulting in an album that is entertaining but certainly not revolutionary.

The instrumentation of Sidewalks is easily the most interesting part of the album, featuring an intriguing combination of dance-style electronic elements with a wide variety of traditional instrumentation. Notable examples include the horn background on “Cameras” and the mixture of a buzzing electric bass and loud drums with plucked strings and piano background behind “Where You’re Coming From.” Certain elements, like the arpeggiated synth background of “Red Paint,” are almost reminiscent of chiptune sounds. The electronic portions lend a great deal of energy to the album, while the more traditional instrumentation provides much-needed grounding and variety.

As usual, Matt and Kim share vocals, with Johnson providing the larger part. Earlier albums by Matt & Kim have been blemished by a lack of variety in vocals as well as a general failure to match vocals to instrumentals, and unfortunately Sidewalks continues the trend. Johnson hasn’t learned any new tones since the band last recorded, and it shows when he doesn’t change tune or style significantly at all across the album. This would be more forgivable if Johnson’s vocals fit the music well – but they don’t, and it’s a serious detriment to the album.

Sidewalks is not lyrically impressive. It’s a mishmash of badly thought out quasi-metaphors and vaguely artistic throwaway lines. Heavy repetition certainly doesn’t help – “Ice melts all around me / Water down me / We’ll water down me” doesn’t make any more sense the third or fourth time. Given that the only notable respites from repetition of lines like those is the occasional appearance of failed poetry (“I see we’re made of more than blood and bones / We’re made of sticks and stones”), Sidewalks does not do well on the lyrical front. Fortunately, given that the vocal element of the album wasn’t exactly the album’s strong point to begin with, this lyrical weakness, while certainly deleterious to the album, can’t quite ruin it.

While the instrumental portion of the album is impressive, it’s unfortunately relegated to the background while the vocals take center stage. The melodies in both the vocal and instrumental parts are lively and interesting, and the blend of instrumentation creates an impressive variety of sounds throughout the album, but the vocals change very little to accommodate this. The synth-organ and tambourine of “Block after Block” create a profoundly different style than the stripped-down bells and synth of “Wires”, but Johnson’s slight whine sounds the same over the whole album.

The rhythms of Sidewalks are lively and the melodies are catchy, and the instrumental parts are extremely well executed. Sidewalks‘ biggest failing is its vocals, which somehow manage to execute these same melodies in a way that completely clashes with the instrumental sound. The instrumental introduction to “Good for Great” is extraordinarily well executed, but as soon as the buzzing synths cut out to make room for the vocals, the track loses most of its liveliness. In addition, toward the end of the album the instrumental parts tend to spend more time just doubling the vocals, leaving less room for the innovative melodies and counterpoints that carried the first part of the album above utter mediocrity.

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