Matt and Kim sure know how to squander goodwill. They are the couple everyone loves to love. Their last dance-punk album, Grand, was ready-made for an iPod commercial, but they delivered it with such sincerity. It was motherfucking catchy and it all came spewing out with wonderfully ragged edges—Matt’s whine, and Kim’s thumping, out-of-tune drums and “good try” backup vocals made the band feel like that comfy, worn-out safety-blanket of a sweater that you just can’t bear to throw away.
Sidewalks takes the fuzzy feeling and wraps it up in plastic, puts labels on it like “Cute!” “Hip!” and “Easily Accessible!” and makes you want to puke. “We’re universal — and we’re aiming for that genre-less sound,” Matt told Spin while trying to describe the band’s new direction. I guess no one told the band that “genre-less sound” usually translates to elevator music, and that is exactly what you get on Sidewalks: overprocessed, overemotional, oversentimental elevator music for the iPad generation.
The band recorded with Deerhunter/ Animal Collective (and ex-Bad Boy) producer Ben Allen, and boy he sure as fuck did not get the band’s appeal. The rough edges are gone; the beats are no longer frantic. The percussion sounds like it was mostly handled by the hip-hop presets on a Casio keyboard, and they putt along low in the mix. Kim’s frantic thump is nowhere to be heard. Matt’s singing is processed into annoying oblivion, and Kim’s voice is buried deep under boring synth lines. There are no more quirks here, just a band trying too hard to make something everyone can like.
Don’t think for a second that this album is the band experimenting with a more electronic sound. There is nothing creative about the electronic production—it just makes everything sound sterile. Perhaps it is an attempt to fit conveniently alongside Passion Pit at Wal-Mart or maybe the band were just dominated by Allen’s production. They even tried to capture past magic by rerecording “Silver Tiles,” a song they recorded in their makeshift home studio in 2005. It sounds like a 14-year-old kid using the same line they used as a 7-year old to try to get candy from their parents. It used to be cute but now it has a cynical, glossy, polish that is simply irksome.