Matt & Kim have a reputation to maintain, that of an insanely happy duo making indie pop that’s sugary sweet. They’re both well beyond the days of misfit childhood where diets mainly consisted of Pixy Stix and you ran around the neighborhood with water guns and stray dogs, yet their music echoes those moments in the best possible way. It’s working on that basic of a sound that has gotten them a solid following over the course of two albums and a relentless amount of touring. They’ll charm the pants off of anyone who will listen, and their third record “Sidewalks” continues in that exact same trend.
Even if you’re not familiar with Matt & Kim, chances are you’re at least lightly aquainted with them. Their song “Daylight” has permeated a number of mediums, airing as backing music for a handful of commercials, TV shows and video games soundtracks. That’s not even counting the copious amounts of radio airplay they got for the track. They’re probably hoping for a similar buzz surrounding the first single “Cameras” from the new album “Sidewalks”. It’s only slightly unconventional for Matt & Kim, with their trademark synths/guitar/drums sound accented with some tuba and a fascinating time signature. It may not be the best song they’ve ever made, but it works in its own way. So does most of the record, with at least 8 out of the 10 tracks coming off like highly marketable singles. The real question will be what on this blissful yet brief album will they choose to focus on.
For those long-term fans of Matt & Kim though, “Sidewalks” will largely serve as a disappointment. On their last record “Grand”, the duo had real problems with both overproduction and the forcing of Kim into a severely diminished role. If those were issues for you last time, they’ll be issues for you once again. The production remains fairly pristine, thereby not properly recreating what you get in a live setting. That’s something their self-titled debut did so well, and it’s what initially earned them the right kind of attention. The lack of those little imperfections and off-kilter drum hits are missed, and with a guitar or a chime coming in at exactly the right spot there’s a certain coldness that betrays the warm pop emerging from the speakers. Again it seems that Kim is given the backseat role on this record, providing very little in the way of backing vocals and even skipping out on drums altogether for a few songs. Instead of drums there are tambourines and chimes and xylophones and drum machines/electronic beats, some or all of which Kim might be playing. So much of it feels programmed in though that it’s tough to tell if a human being is even playing these extra instruments or not. These are problems that can really diminish your liking of the album if they’re important to you.
What with the popularity of “Daylight” and a new fans gained through all the touring and festival shows, “Sidewalks” is just about the perfect album for the casual Matt & Kim lover. If you’ve only heard their last album “Grand” or even just a song or two, you have no idea what you’re missing. Close listeners and fans of the duo’s debut might notice the small, glossed over problems that pepper the album’s otherwise sweet disposition. “Sidewalks” is a delight to listen to from start to finish, but only if you treat it like a really entertaining blockbuster movie. The broad appeal is certainly there, it just lacks depth and humanity. The sad thing is that in person Matt & Kim can be some of the deepest and warmest people on Earth. Outside of the studio polish applied on this record, these songs probably move from pretty good to absolutely excellent, which is enough of a reason to go see Matt & Kim live. Since you’re unlikely to see them perform more than maybe once or twice a year, this album serves as a reasonable facsimile of that experience. Is it worth a purchase? Maybe if you’ve got the spare cash and need a fun little distraction. Other than that, you’re better off spending your time and money on something a little less disposable.