Indie rock’s going through a transitional phase, and it’s moving closer to the mainstream than it ever has. Fault it on the commercials, but many of those bands have crossed over, and those that haven’t are certainly trying.
Enter Matt & Kim and their latest release, Sidewalks.
As their fourth record, Sidewalks establishes itself as Matt & Kim’s shot at a pseudo-mainstream cross over album. It’s the same tactic that benefited the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s in 2008, which saw them turn up their pop accessibility while not alienating the punk/alternative-loving base. It only makes sense. But the thing is, it’s not like Matt & Kim haven’t attempted this before. Their previous albums sparked with potential for such a cross over. However, it’s only now that they’ve taken those ideas and run with them full steam. This means that they’ve toned down their trademark raw punk sound, at least for the most part. What’s surprising, though, is that despite this shift, their frantic, fan favorite surge of energy remains intact – it’s just been channeled differently.
The formula from records past is still at the base of the writing with Kim Schifino carrying the tracks on the drums and Matt Johnson making them endearing and sweet with his layers of video game synthesizers. The change here comes in the form of expansion, and though they still never break the four minute mark, there’s much more substance to the tracks. First single “Cameras” gives that distinct shift a face, trading hook ideas from hip-hop and The Cure. The spunk is most certainly still there, just listen to “Silver Trees” or “Ice Melts”, where you can hear Matt & Kim striking while the dance-rock iron is still very hot. Through this move, they’ve moved into a sound that’s now distinctively much more pop-based.
The multiple layers of synths, and a range of percussion give the sense of a bigger band. Played as a wall of sound, this leads the tracks down an anthemic path that has taken over as the main vehicle for the record’s sound. Take a track like “Block After Block”, for instance. From the get go, we hear stronger hooks, bolder hand claps, and a pulsing, but still punk-paced beat. But then we have the chorus on “Red Paint” that sports heavier distorted effects that makes it more of a rock song, in the vein of TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me”. Track for track, there’s quite a bit of versatility on Sidewalks, as the two feel out how they can become a popular band without alienating their base. A few of the New Wave-inspired tracks (“Silver Tiles”) feel a bit awkward, but that’s because Matt & Kim aren’t known for ballads. But even if you can’t get into the sentimentality of “Northeast”, there’s still plenty to be excited for.
The new look, for the most part, wears well on this band. The record’s end result is exactly what you’d hope for: 10 bright new tracks to sink into. Sure, Sidewalks stands as Matt & Kims most professionally forward effort to date, but that in no way should be a discouragement. The two keep it earnest for the sake of taking the next step forward, and now with this album they have the strong potential to move up the proverbial mainstream ladder. Change is normal for any band. They’ve made it pretty easy to tag along.