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Matt and Kim’s ‘Sidewalks’: Still Matt & Kim, still unavoidably catchy, still a welcome change

November 18th, 2010

Matt and Kim have come out with a new album, and it doesn’t include “Daylight,” their breakthrough hit that was stuck in your head last year.

If you can handle that missing song you’re in for a treat because this record more than makes up for not having “Daylight” all over again.

Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino have slightly altered how they make music since we last heard from them, and “Sidewalks” is an unexpected surprise. This record sees the duo going for a stroll in every sense of the word.

Lyrically, the focus is firmly, if at times heavy-handedly, put on moving: moving on, moving forward, and moving around.

Optimistic lines like, “Hey friend, we’ll jump the turnstiles/And cut it down while the lights are out/Eyes are closed and shouting right now,” about running around the city, presumably the band’s beloved New York, abound on the record’s most successful tracks.

This theme is at its best on hyper-fun, super catchy songs such as “Block After Block,” “AM/FM Sound,” “Cameras,” and “Wires.” But when the songs aim at more thoughtful topics the record stumbles a little bit.

On “Northeast,” Johnson wonders if it’s a good thing that he has only called New York home with mixed results. He’s about two pegs above whining when he half-laments, “The northeast, well it’s all I really know/With dust and bricks and some cars/Can breathe again, even through this lovely grime.” It’s good that the band is trying to further their scope of material, but I think this might be a case of don’t fix what isn’t broken.

The biggest, and most surprising, aspect of the album is the overall sound.

To this point Matt and Kim have been fully content with staying within their niche of he plays keyboards and sings while she plays drums like a slightly less talented Meg White.

But after working with new producer Ben Allen (Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective) this disc has fewer cute back and forth between piano and drums and more electronics and heavier low-ends.

It seems that at some point during their walk they danced into a club and liked what they heard.

This new sound is fully on display throughout “Cameras,” the album’s best track by far. The song is held up by a huge beat that’s a mix of horns, modified strings, and xylophones. If “Daylight” is history, “Cameras” is first in line to take its place.

This song will get stuck in your head with an almost evil ease, but don’t worry you’ll be OK with it. Instead of playing up the individual sounds that the two make on their own, this time around it’s as if they’ve both wandered into the effects together and come out with a great twist on their old style.

Despite the changes Johnson and Schifino still know who they are and what kind of music they make.

The album is short, sweet, and to the point with ten tracks clocking in at a very manageable 34 minutes. Even if they are forcing the issue of wandering with a lack of subtlety that a visit to the Writing Center could fix, this album is a step forward for them.

Is this destined to be a classic? Not by a long shot. “Sidewalks” isn’t perfect, and that’s fine. On “Red Paint” they declare, “Let’s make life so big!/Make sure it can’t be missed!”

Take half an hour out of your day and run around with Matt and Kim, it’s good for you.