Matt and Kim
I feel like saying “if you have never heard of Matt and Kim” is becoming less and less necessary. The forward-thinking New York musical duo has made quite an impression on the hipster community and now, with “Lightning” they are here for the masses. I don’t like to say that they’ve sold out, but rather they have just been around long enough that your friend in the skinny jeans and cardigan can now sit back and watch you enjoy the thing that he has liked for years. And that is one of two things that will make a hipster smile.
The music on this album is a winning argument for addition by subtraction. By stripping music down to a keyboard and drums, they are forced to be as creative as possible with the tools at their disposal. This means both with the physical instruments as well as the vocal arrangements and phrasing. Matt’s keyboard playing is about as interesting as anyone playing today. What he does with 88 keys and some creative sound patches and editing tricks is inspiring, but not technically. Matt is not the new Beethoven, or even the new Ben Folds, but the way he thinks of his instrument and the lack of necessary limitations placed upon it is truly amazing.
And then there’s Kim. While it would be easy to lump her into the Meg White novelty of chick-drummer-in-a-two-piece-band-with-a-talented-male-front-man camp, she is so much more. Not only does she assist Matt with his ridiculous lyrics, she also brings a rhythmic sensibility to their music that most drummers are not allowed the freedom to do. Again, this goes to prove the ‘addition by subtraction’ mentality that has allowed this band to flourish in recent years. By being just less than front and center, Kim is forced to hold her own with somebody that is playing an instrument that produces notes AND sings. And the beautiful part is that she does.
The brilliance of “Lightning” is that the duo has completely settled into their roles. Where there may have been confusion on “Grand” and “Sidewalks”, both of these musicians understand their role and, perhaps more importantly have completely embraced it. The album is tightly focused and painstakingly mapped out. And while the focus is on fun and the map is all over the fucking place, it is all incredibly intentional. By placing themselves in the musical equivalent of a giant pasture, they have roamed and figured out the best shady spots to groove as well as the best sunny hillsides to rock your balls off.
When I told fellow yourpopfilter writer Mike Gravagno that I was listening to this record, he said “oh cool, new running music”. And while he is absolutely correct, this album has elements of classical, pop, electronica and even dabbles in metal-inspired breakdowns. And though the breakdowns are inspired by metal, they are still only a keyboard and drums, so don’t go looking for Slayer when you listen to “Lightning”. The point is, while Matt and Kim very much do their own thing, they are not musical idiots. On the contrary, they come as close to mixing fun and musical logic as anyone playing music today. For comparison, I can only look to Neon Trees and Passion Pit, bands that have both released excellent albums this year, but also have the advantage of a full band.
Matt and Kim toe the line between taking music seriously and taking themselves seriously. While they don’t make outright fun of themselves like Blink 182, they don’t have the stodgy self-importance of Radiohead either. Matt and Kim are for everyone. Whether you know everything about music theory or you just want to sit and be entertained by The Insane Clown Posse (impossible?), Matt and Kim will find a way to delight every part of you brain while making all the other parts consider the musicality of their work.
Star Rating: 3½ Stars
Track to Dig: “Now” – Metal/dub-step inspired breakdowns? Danceable rhythms? Lyrical ear candy? Accelerando? Yes, yes, yes and yes. This song is fun on a bun with enough substance to pull the up-turned noses of even the snottiest critics down to reality.
Track to Miss: “I Said” – This is the only track that gets to be a little repetitive. Another aspect of the intelligence of this band is knowing exactly how long to make a song and them making it 10 seconds shorter. On this track, they missed the mark by about a minute. A rare miss, yes, but a miss nonetheless.
Jason R. Noble