Brooklyn pop-rockers Matt and Kim worked hard to keep it basic on their new album, Sidewalks.There’s an acronym that Brooklyn-based bandmates (and boyfriend/girlfriend combo) Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino — professionally known as Matt and Kim — like to use. It hasn’t spread to the populace or spawned its own line of woven wristbands, but WWMKD — which stands for “What would Matt and Kim do?” — guided the duo through the recording process of their newest album, Sidewalks (Fader Label, $12). “It referred to whenever we started getting a little too musician-y on [the album],” Johnson explains. “Like, ‘Let’s keep it simple.’ Because that’s the kind of music I like to listen to.”
The band has spent the past four years cultivating an audience for their offbeat musical style, perhaps best described as hip-hop-infused dance punk. And while fitting the twosome into a genre can get complicated, their music is often pretty straightforward.
Released in 2006, Matt and Kim’s self-titled debut album featured little more than simplistic synth lines and basic drumbeats, mostly because neither Johnson (keyboards/vocals) nor Schifino (drums) had played their respective instruments before starting the band. That elementary approach (and a mix of happy, up-tempo tunes) helped the pair develop a cult following, and they quickly outgrew their original tour ride — an ’89 Honda Civic gifted to Johnson by his grandmother.
Their breakout record came in the form of 2009’s Grand, which revealed a more polished, cohesive sound and featured “Daylight,” the band’s most commercially successful song to date. But at its core, Grand was still simple Matt and Kim: The entire album was recorded inside Johnson’s childhood bedroom in Vermont, and the tracks, despite an added depth and complexity, translated well to the stage without requiring the aid of touring musicians. So when the duo teamed with producer Ben Allen for Sidewalks, they were careful to avoid convoluting their sound.
“[Ben] had come off doing stuff like the Animal Collective Merriwether Post Pavilion album, which had a lot going on,” Johnson says. “And I was like, ‘I want this to be like an episode of Seinfeld. I just want nothing to happen. Can we make nothing happen?’ ”
But making nothing happen turned out to be a painstaking process. After Johnson and Schifino spent nine months recording and mixing Grand, they vowed to cut their next album in less time. Yet, when the final mix for Sidewalks was approved in early September, Johnson realized it had once again taken nine months to get to a final product.
“I believe a lot in refining things,” Johnson says. “I came from a film background, where it’s the world of numerous cuts of something. The first cut is never the best; the next cut will be a little better. You’ve just got to keep refining.”
Though it took the better part of a year to perfect the sound of Sidewalks, it takes all of 10 seconds into “Cameras,” the album’s lead single, to understand Matt and Kim’s appeal. They may not be classically trained or know much about music theory, but they’ve got a knack for producing beats and melodies that subconsciously leave you bobbing your head.
“We’ve always sounded a little different because we didn’t know what we were doing,” Johnson says. “We always want to keep some of that to it. I think that’s what keeps it exciting.”
Visual Interest Matt and Kim’s Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino met at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, where he was studying film and she was majoring in illustration. All that artistic intuition has left them with a penchant for making memorable music videos — one of which, last year’s “Lessons Learned,” even earned them an MTV Video Music Award for Breakthrough Video. Here’s a rundown of the four they’ve released so far, all of which can be seen at www.mattandkimmusic.com. —R.J.
What starts as a typical house-party gig gets weird in a hurry, when Johnson’s and Schifino’s arms grow to cartoonish proportions. The scene that follows resembles something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie.
The video’s lone locale — a pristine, all-white kitchen, complete with a white drum set and keyboard — is befouled as the band gets pelted with food items, from pizza to pickles to chocolate pudding.
Despite Schifino’s reported aversion to confined spaces, she and Johnson find themselves playing their hit “Daylight” in some tight spots, including a refrigerator, a closet and even the backseat of a taxi.
Decked out in winter garb, the two hop out of a van in the middle of Times Square and strip down to their socks. Erykah Badu used this video as inspiration for her controversial “Window Seat” clip.