Album Review: Matt and Kim, ‘New Glow’
To Matt and Kim, albums have always been the basis for something more. That’s not to imply the actual music isn’t important to the Brooklyn indie dance duo – the songs just tend to serve as the soundtrack for quirky videos (like when they strolled naked through Times Square in 2009 for “Lessons Learned”) or set the script for one of their many full-on concert spectaculars.
That’s especially true of New Glow – the fifth full-length from real-life couple Matt Johnson (vocals, keyboards) and Kim Schifino (drums) and their first since 2012’s Lightning. While the three-year gap marks their longest between records so far, it’s not because they were sitting on any adorable laurels. They spent much of that time on the road recruiting fans by the amphitheater with a vibe reverse-engineered to steal the show at summer festivals. Although they ascended the indie ranks on the strength of singles that revolved around a decreasingly minimalist but insanely catchy lo-fi aesthetic, their live shows have always dipped into varied genres like hip-hop and EDM.
So when they began work on New Glow, they set out to create individual standout tracks that would kill in concert instead of a compendium with an overarching narrative concept or tone. Johnson told us back in March they "wanted this to feel like it could have been someone’s Spotify playlist," and while all the songs definitely sound like the work of the same band, they do overtly venture further into the hip-hop and dance realm than some O.G. fans might expect.
They re-teamed with producer Lars Stalfors (who also helmed their self-titled 2006 debut) but also enlisted Jesse Shatkin (who co-wrote and produced Sia’s “Chandelier”) and Andrew Dawson (Kanye West’s longtime engineer), making for an eclectic mix. The results are far glossier and less organic than anything Matt and Kim have done, and while the underlying twee sentiment remains largely in tact, New Glow revels in its synthetic sheen. Lead single "Get It" (which you might recognize from all those commercials for FXX's Man Seeking Woman) bumps and grinds with a thumping bass and diced vocals while songs like "Stirred Up" and "Killin' Me" completely replace Johnson's classic piano keyboard sound for straight-up, Casio-tinged synths.
Lyrically, however, this is essentially the same Matt and Kim as always. The purpose isn't to prompt any deep introspection; instead, Johnson is eternally affable (if not a little sophomoric) in his delivery of lines that are unabashedly cute, a little repetitive and aimed at inciting impromptu dance parties (refer to "Hoodie On" which is a direct homage to one particular piece of clothing). Although he ostensibly opens up more about the couple's personal relationship (something Johnson said he never did in the past), it still comes in the form of vague and mostly surface-level sing-a-longs. The album opener "Hey Now" is clearly a love letter to Shifino, but Johnson doesn't really explain why. Instead, he states broadly, "Sometimes you just make me lose my mind / But if you died, I'd die right by your side."
But nobody is turning to Matt and Kim for revelatory songs about the human experience. They're turning to them for kinetic tunes hard-wired to make you move – and you can't blame the pair for evolving. When they first started churning out their indie dance blend in 2004, they were a breath of completely fresh air. Now you can't throw a stone anywhere in the indie scene without hitting a co-ed duo forged in their likeness. More than anything, however, you get the sense Matt and Kim are making music to make each other happy – and it's hard to imagine they don't absolutely love New Glow. Considering how upbeat and positive they always seem, maybe we should all follow their lead.