Matt & Kim fans, celebrate. The band’s new album Sidewalks, released this past Tuesday, brings back the characteristically upbeat sound of Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino with a twist. In 2009, the band’s independently produced Grand (recorded in Johnson’s childhood Vermont home) won listeners with its energy and basic combination of drums and keyboard.
This third album, based on a uniquely punk-like sound that made every track catchy, gave the band widespread success. Songs such as “Daylight,” featured in a Bacardi commercial and various television shows, exposed Matt & Kim to a wider audience.
Sidewalks is a natural progression from Grand — with added studio help and instrumental accompaniment, the new album has more vigor and variety.
Granted, some of the homemade, human appeal of Matt & Kim previous albums is lost in the increased texture and polish of the new album.
Yet, the addition of horns on the single “Cameras,” and the synthetic claps on “Block After Block” give more depth to the music and distinguish the album from Grand in a positive way. Those who found Grand’s relentless energy and repetitive melodies uninteresting after a few listens will be pleased with Sidewalks’ variety.
Matt & Kim also stay true to their nostalgic, corny lyrics, helping them retain their small-town feel. The track “Wires” tells listeners to reset your clocks / and rewrite your thoughts. And while slightly different, the core of the music is the same — its goal is to make listeners smile with pounding drum lines and fast-paced melodies.
“Block After Block” is the first track on the album and opens with Johnson saying Now this is all me followed by an exhilarating hook by the familiar keyboard and drum combination. It warms up listeners for the highly energetic tracks to come and the catchy, fast-paced chorus is easy to sing along to.
“AM/FM Sound” is a little more restrained than typical Matt & Kim, but a playful chorus without any lyrics, just Johnson belting out oh eh oh eh oh … lightens up the more mature addition of layered horns, keyboards and drums. It’s sure to get fans moving in the crowd and put a grin on their faces.
Probably the most reflective of Matt & Kim’s new style, “Cameras” is the next track and first single off the album. It begins with a horn line and beat that is more reminiscent of rap than indie pop, but the humorously cheesy lyrics are unique to the band: Every single car alarm we hear / we’ll steal and throw through their window.
“Red Paint” follows “Cameras,” doubling Johnson’s voice in parts of the song and introducing a synthesized flute that threads throughout clutters the singer’s earnest melody. It’s one of the weaker tracks on the album, but fans will still appreciate the carefree message in the lyrics: Hands in red paint, let’s make a mark.
“Where You’re Coming From” continues the album, with the delicately fast-paced keyboard and drum combination mixed with again-doubled vocals makes the track reminiscent of an Arcade Fire song. This and the slow-paced “Good For Great” are both melancholy and optimistic, both reminiscing about home but looking toward the future.
“Northeast” is similar to “Turn This Boat Around” from their previous album and is a nearly-3-minute block of nostalgia. Exaggerated and slow to the point of becoming disinteresting, the track will resonate with those from the northeast, especially with the description of New York City summer nights: Can breathe again / and your bones, they feel alive.
The bouncing beat of “Wires” begins after “Northeast” and is well placed in the album order because it grabs the listeners’ attention and revamps the band’s energy. “Wires” is one of the simplest tracks on the album and is catchy enough to get the crowd singing along to its pounding chorus.
Following this is “Silver Tiles,” which will make listeners tap their feet — if not jump — along with the song.
“Ice Melts” closes out the album. The song is a celebratory statement with horns adding to the appeal of the simple track. It’s easy to picture Johnson performing this song, pounding away at the keyboard.
Sidewalks is a great third album — Matt & Kim fans should not miss it. In it, the duo shows that it has developed its sound while staying true to the buoyant, partying atmosphere that made them so popular before.
The band’s insanely positive attitude — relayed through the energetic lyrics and instrumentals — is only strengthened by the addition of more instruments and varying voicing.
Don’t panic and think that Matt & Kim have lost their raw happiness in this more polished album — their music will again leave listeners humming along to the tracks with smiles on their faces.