Read any review of Matt and Kim’s first three albums, and several descriptors pop up fairly regularly: high-energy, perpetually happy, DIY, anthemic, sing-along, etc. I’d bet my bottom dollar, though, that fewer reviews mention the synth-punkers’ songwriting ability. On their fourth LP, Lightning, the lovebirds have made songwriting a priority; but, as is the case with their high-energy, perpetually happy, DIY, song-along anthems, the lyrics alternate between the profound and the overwrought. Nevertheless, this new focus will forever shift your opinion on Matt and Kim as a band.
With each effort finding a decidedly similar vein of sonic saccharine, it’s no small feat that the duo continues to keep things intriguing, perpetually culling newer, fresher influences. Album opener “Let’s Go” discovers a profound niche between their unceasing pop romanticism and their tendency for hyperactive explosions, with the clash of the gentle piano and “oh ah” vocals creating a sense that things may ignite violently, suddenly, and oh-so joyfully at any second.
While “Now” falls in line with Grand-era M&K, it’s also the energetic acme of the record, inciting a riotous desire in the hearts and minds of listeners via its ravenous, infectious chorus and some of the most bombastic, 8-bit synth/keys in their catalog. The duo’s experimentation with dub is nothing new, buts this configuration (thick, shiny globules pulsating in intervals and shaking the song’s structure) is a novel take on emphasizing noise and bass. There are other high points energy-wise (the dance-jazz of “It’s Alright”, the punk-ish guitar march of “Much Too Late”) that keep the momentum sustained, but placing the apexes so early seems like a way to give listeners what they expect while slowly lulling them into more substantive pieces.
Those “substantive pieces” are more incremental adjustments than outright creative leaps. “I Wonder” and its jagged, terrifying siren could be just another ADHD-prone tune, but the end product isn’t perpetuated by a worldview or an aesthetic. Instead, words and inflection rule, displaying a regret that makes these non-stop party animals appear human (“time spent thinking about what I should have said/ and saying what I should have thought”). It extends to the chorus (“I wonder what I would have become”), where Matt’s delivery recalls a young boy singing to the heavens, contemplating the Universe’s machinations.
“Overexposed” manages to further break down the facade while maintaining their poetic lean (“like a picture I was overexposed/ believe me I saw you with your eyes closed”) and manic musical output (though simplified, the synth is the equivalent of a Porsche with a jet engine). Their sound has a built-in power to intensify itself by pairing contrasting emotions, but they always seem to err on the side of one safe, increasingly tedious emotional level.
Together, though, these elements display unseen levels of self-awareness for Matt and Kim, demonstrating that there are things no celebration can overcome and that true maturation means recognizing your own shortcomings. Opening up more may be painful, but it’s perhaps more reason to celebrate life than, say, “Tonight” and its re-hash of indulgent NYC pride.
There are worthwhile emotional growing pains, and then there are purely painful moments. “I Said” proves that they haven’t mastered the middle ground between depth and alluring sentence constructs, with their poetic and newly straight-forward bent merging in an unholy blend of bland, direction-less rubbish (“sometimes I feel like I’m doing time/ I know you’re just as confused”).
Still, that holds back some, where “Ten Dollars I Found” and its lack of foresight make for their hokiest creation to date. It’s not so much the concept (all the joyous, life-affirming things you can do with ten bucks), but how it’s delivered: a slow, middling sing-along intended for foam parties (you want to do old song formats right, see The Presets’ “Ghosts”). Both numbers are signs of the same issue: They’re bands that have reached the end of their rope, with all subtlety and winks toward the audience gone, looking like a devolved pop act where even a modest amount of intellect is unnecessary.
Not that such a downgrade might matter. Matt and Kim’s music is about amping up energy and getting parties started. If they can transcend that for even quasi-emotional enlightenment, then they’ve won; if not, then at least you can still bop to it. That logic, though, sells the band short, as there’s plenty of subtle intellect and context already mixed into the ecstasy and camaraderie of their sound. Despite missteps, they’ve displayed that here, and subsequent LPs may see them refine the process even further. That or they’d better add another synth or maybe a four-neck guitar into the mix to keep things fun and distracting.
Essential Tracks: “Let’s Go”, “Now”