I wonder what it was like for music critics and connoisseurs when the electric guitar first hit mainstream music. I'd imagine many wrote it off as noise, a plaything, not an instrument at all. Despite the conservative conventions, though, the electric guitar managed to break new ground and become a symbol of modern rock music with it was finally put into the right hands.
Modern indie music is facing a similar dilemma. Until recently, hipsters liked their indie stripped down and mellow. Now, with the newfound popularity of bands like MGMT, M83, and Peter, Bjorn, and John, indie music has seemingly embraced electronic elements and largely left behind the acoustic guitar and drum set duos of last week.
One of the groups to embrace the wonders of the synthesizer is Matt & Kim, a two-piece from New York City. Kim creates the "beats," for lack of a better word, and Matt uses his awkward-yet-it-works-wonderfully voice to deliver the lyrics. Together it's a great, original sounding combination that had me hooked from the first track to the last.
Matt & Kim have decided to ditch the mellow, slow beeps and bloops of their contemporaries in favor of a more spastic, dance-pop approach with distinct indie undertones with their newest effort, Grand. The good news is, it all comes together remarkably well. Songs like the opening track, "Daylight," and "Don't Slow Down," are incredibly catchy pieces of songwriting. The best track by far on the album is "Good Ol' Fashion Nightmare," an extremely layered and intricate piece with sampled hand-clapping, piano and violin all coming together to create a catchy wall of electronic sound that you'll be more than happy to run into every time you get to track three.
Not all of the songs on this LP hit the mark, though. While most are catchy, there are a few throwaway tracks mixed in. On a full-length that only clocks in at 11 tracks and 29 minutes (with 10 originals and one remix at the end), there isn't much room for filler. Too bad no one told Matt or Kim that. Also, when I listen to some of the songs, I feel like I'm listening to an interlude from another band's record. The songs that are under two minutes long tend to fall prey to this (with the exception of the excellent "Spare Change"), and I attribute that to their lack of depth. While songs like "Good Ol' Nightmare" sound rich and robust, some just sound empty and uninspired.
You can blame Bright Eyes. Conor Oberst's use of electronic instruments on Digital Ash in a Digital Urn undoubtedly helped popularize the idea in the genre due to his rampant success among females and the males who date them. You can blame the Postal Service -- the Death Cab for Cutie singer's side project produced the biggest seller for independent label Sub Pop with Give Up. Regardless of how it started or where it's going to end, this is the popular sound this season with the Urban Outfitters crowd, and I don't see it going anywhere anytime soon. Do yourself a favor and choose Matt & Kim as one of the bands you devote your money (or hard drive space) and listening time to. It's a refreshingly upbeat album when put up against the competition, and should provide a solid song or two for your newest road trip playlist.