ALBUM REVIEW: Matt & Kim – Sidewalks


GIVEAWAY: Sidewalks LP and "Cameras" 7" single both on vinyl ?


74 — [Rating Scale] [Stream Full Album]

Matt & Kim face an interesting dilemma. They are a duo that has, for better or for worse, become defined by its breakout hit, the infectious “Daylight.” The song has become their calling card, the song that best encapsulates their vibrant energy. “Daylight” has been in TV shows, video games, and (shudder) in a Bacardi advertisement. So how do they prevent fading into the past, a footnote in the book of one hit wonders?

Well, for one, they make a third album that seeks to replicate the unbound enthusiasm that defines that hit, packing as much joyous pop into ten songs as you can imagine.

Let’s be clear, I am not attempting to boil Matt & Kim’s last album, Grand, down to “Daylight,” because it really is much more than that. It’s a fun album front to back. Similarly, Sidewalks should not be brushed off for merely being sunny pop. It’s sunshine and butterflies most of the time, but there’s a lot more real life in these songs than a quick listen might reveal; as Matt & Kim battle breakout success – a strange position to be in, for sure – they also battle the idiosyncrasies of modern life.

On opening track “Block After Block,” Matt advises us to “eat when you’re hungry and sleep when you’re slipping,” rather than being caught up in the dictates of society. On “Cameras,” Sidewalk’s third track, the duo pushes back against the impulse to over-document. “No time for cameras,” sings Matt, “we’ll use our eyes instead.” The songs are drenched in synth and infused with pep, sure, but they’re not vacuous. Lighthearted, yes, but not empty.

There is, however, a sense of something missing here. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is exactly, perhaps because there isn’t a single focal point on which to place blame. Instead, there is a general sheen over the album that dilutes the potential of great songs like the aforementioned tunes. Kim’s drums, which absolutely anchor the pair’s live show, seem a bit too muted. Matt’s vocals are a bit too polished, not as raw as they have been in the past. Perhaps most tellingly, the synthesizers are thrown to the very front of the mix, as if they are the driving forces behind these songs. Sidewalks, in some way, prioritizes pop over personality.

And that, in the end, is what gives me pause. Because here’s the reality, kids: I don’t have the energy for Matt & Kim most of the time. These songs are perfect for a sunny romp in the park, but have no home on a quiet day. I have a hard time imagining listening to this album as snow falls; it’s a summer album released in November.

Put another way, Sidewalks is the fun friend, the one that’s always positive, even after getting bad news. And sometimes that’s a great thing – Matt & Kim standing on each shoulder, urging you to go out and seize the day, have fun because you only live once, that sort of thing. Other times, though, it’s too much. On those days Matt & Kim become the glass-half-full friend that just doesn’t get it.

Let me go on the record as believing that there is a big ol’ place for pure pop music in this world. Unabashed bubblegum holds a special place in my heart, and for that reason, I kind of love this album. I love the hip hop influence that runs through these tracks, the bumping beats of “Block After Block” and “Cameras.” I love the personal stories and New York allusions of “Good For Great” and “Northeast.” I love the playful pizzicato strings and skipping beat on “Where You’re Coming From.” But deep down I also know that this album probably won’t stay with me for very long.

So I’m conflicted. Some days, I’m sure, I will love listening to Sidewalks. Other days, it will completely turn me off, leaving me with the feeling that they Just Don’t Get It. After contemplating this reality, though, I don’t think it’s damning. It boils down to a series of questions. Have Matt & Kim made an album that proves “Daylight” (and to a lesser extent “Good Old Fashioned Nightmare”) wasn’t a fluke? Yes. Does it miss the mark sometimes? Yes. Is it worth listening to? Yes. In the end, isn’t that the point? Yes.


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