Monday, March 2, 2009

Grand - Matt & Kim


Matt and Kim
Fader Records.

SCQ Rating: 62%

Apparently Grand, the sophomore record of Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino’s, was two years in the making. While such a claim timelines well with their growing reputation among under-the-rug indie circles, it hardly compliments the material. Now thankfully I didn’t notice when syncing Grand to my Ipod that it clocks in at a meager 29 minutes because honestly, it’s a drag feeling ripped off before even hearing what you’ve bought. Of course, when final track ‘Daylight Outro Mix’ finishes well before I even catch my bus, the lowered expectations sneak up. Now while good things do indeed come in small packages, you’re bound to start wondering why an “outro” remix of its opening song still cannot buoy this record over a half hour! Again, I’m getting agitated…

Grand starts promisingly, if not misleadingly, with their two best tracks; ‘Daylight’ introduces us to their peppy piano lines and staccato vocal hooks, which are given some pressure on the rapid-fire drum ‘n’ synth follow-up ‘Cutdown’. Their sound is sparsely focused between stomping percussion, cheap casio-styled keys, and the odd organ flourish, and while this omits the usual instruments one expects to hear on an indie-rock record, Matt and Kim make it sound professional and effortless. Although some trite “na-na-na”’s are emboldened by delicate keys on ‘Lessons Learned’ and a disco beat carries ‘I’ll Take You Home’, it’s difficult to ignore how delicate these arrangements are when judged against one another.

In other words (because I want to make myself perfectly clear), many of these songs sound terribly alike. Beyond a few too-familiar vocal lines, the culprit of this monotony lies in Matt and Kim’s songwriting. The duo write songs that leap out at the listener with a solid understanding of pop dynamics, yet without any motive or sense of direction, proceed to chase their own tails, figuratively speaking. This weakness accounts for the repetitiveness, no doubt, but also explains why several tracks here die before (or around) the two-minute mark. Among these non-committal songs are the worst offenders: ‘Turn This Boat Around’ exhibits what happens when Matt & Kim think they can get by without punchy tempos, while ‘Don’t Slow Down’ takes a two-key synth-line stolen from your baby cousin’s Mickey Mouse Workout DVD and, lacking any lyrical insights, decides to stick closely by its title. These tracks do more than simply remind us that Grand is an incredibly short album; it relieves us to find that, at the very least, Matt & Kim know when to call it a day.

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