Matt & Kim: “Sidewalks”

Indie rock duo Matt & Kim are a cute couple who make cute music. Their danceable, synth-driven bits of happiness have found commercial success lately, having been featured in everything from Bacardi commercials to “The Sims” to “Entourage.” Hot off this success, Matt & Kim released their third studio album, “Sidewalks” on Nov. 2.

“Sidewalks” is the logical musical evolution from their first and second albums, “Matt & Kim” and “Grand,” featuring the same warbly vocals provided by Matt Johnson and punchy drums from Kim Schifino. Released a mere 10 months after “Grand,” “Sidewalks” can almost be seen as the extended part of the extended edition of “Grand”. But yet, “Sidewalks” is missing that little something that made “Grand” so, well, grand.

This album isn’t bad per se. The beginning is very promising. The initial track “Block After Block” starts with a synth riff as sweet as sugar and as addictive as crack. Punctuated beautifully by the drums and the vocals, the song gets you out of your seat and ready to move. Unfortunately, the way they start moving is southward.

The second track, “AM/FM Sound” predominately features Johnson’s forced vocals. Though endearing, his voice is not yet developed enough to carry a song without the help of a strong melody, which this song definitely lacks. The generic techno sounding beat is uninteresting and easily pushed into the background of the song and forgotten.

As if deliberately placed to contrast with “AM/FM”, the third track and first single “Cameras” once again features Johnson’s vocals except backed by a much more interesting instrumental. The clever hook and driving synths are the one-two punch characteristic of earlier Matt and Kim hits like “Daylight” and “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare,” delivering something wonderfully “headbob-able.” While not as catchy as “Daylight” or “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare”, “Cameras” holds it own as one of the standout tracks on the record.

Unfortunately, the next few songs feel out of place and out of touch. “Red Paint” features futuristic synths which distract from Matt’s clever lyrical play and transitions horribly into the MIDI-fied strings of “Where You’re Coming From.”

“Good for Great” is forgettable, tragically pairing amazing opening synths with weak vocals and lackluster follow-up synth. What could have been a very fun and interesting song is held down by inconsistent songwriting.

Strangely enough, “Northeast” is nearly the exact inverse, presenting fun lyrical play with an overly stripped down and simple instrumental.  The vocals in “Northeast” are almost strong enough to carry the song, if only they had a little bit more backing.

The two final songs, “Silver Tiles” and “Ice Melts” each have their own strengths but both are plagued with a deadly flaw. The energy level of “Silver Tiles” continually rises, but the song ends rather abruptly leaving you unsatisfied and confused. “Ice Melts” features a very strong hook backed up by very little else.

One of the few memorable highlights from “Sidewalks” is Matt Johnson’s matured and evolving vocals. His performance on “Where You’re Coming From” and “Northeast” are like nothing before, with his voice evoking pure unadulterated happiness. He is clearly improving as a singer and the band are continually becoming better songwriters.

Kim Schifino’s performance is also impressive, with her drum work on the eighth track “Wires” shining through and carrying the energy for the entire song.

Despite strong performances from both Matt and Kim, “Sidewalks” feels a little lackluster. While not necessarily a bad album, “Sidewalks” comes off as a little on the ‘meh’ side — not bad but not good either. The standout tracks, while catchy and danceable in their own right, are pale in comparison with some of Matt & Kim’s earlier hits. Most of the songs are easily forgettable, suffering from inconsistency. Some start strong and end weakly, some needed only a bit more work to be much greater and some tracks are just plain out of place.

But what this album lacks in being forgettable, it makes up in showcasing the work of two continually improving artists. Matt and Kim’s evolving performances give hope for their future. Though the album isn’t better than their earlier ones, the performances are. If Matt and Kim can maintain this level of performance and return to their earlier song writing form, their future efforts are bound to only get better. While not the destination they needed to arrive at, “Sidewalks” is definitely a step along the way.

For now, “Sidewalks” gets tucked into my collection. It is definitely not the strongest record I’ve ever listened to. But the few diamonds in the rough are enough to keep my ears open for more work from “Matt & Kim”. Things are only going to get better from here.

Rating: 3 out of 5