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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