Matt and Kim

New Glow

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    5
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Over the course of a decade, four albums, and uncountable miles of touring, Matt and Kim have made a good career out of powerhouse drums, cheesy synths, impassioned vocals, and songs that get pulses racing and feet moving. Like a toybox punk-pop dance machine that will stop working forever if it stops moving just once, they always seem like they're in a rush to get the song they are playing over with so they can jump feet-first into the next one. Admirable and fun, it's a mode of operation that apparently leads to burnout, because their fifth album, New Glow, is their first to show serious signs of wear and tear. Sometimes it's the corny lyrics that let the side down (an ode to Matt's beloved hoodie titled "Hoodie On" is a particular low point); sometimes it's the songs that rely more on bouncy modern radio pop textures than their usual punky, energetic template. Mostly the problem is that the manic rush of the duo's music has been replaced with a more restrained, refined approach. Kim's drums don't have the same punch (especially on the surprising numbers that feature machines instead of live drums), Matt's vocals are a little less impassioned, and the songs are polished to a boringly slick finish. Several of them sound like they were cut from a 1999 Sugar Ray album; too many seem like they are pandering to current mainstream tastes with their shouted, cheerleader-y choruses, budget dance beats, and embarrassing hip-hop references. Even the songs that have some of the old energy are bogged down by silly keyboard effects ("Make a Mess") and choruses that fail to soar ("Can You Blame Me"); the entire album has a general lack of excitement that could be Matt and Kim mailing it in, or taking one step too far toward the pop mainstream and losing the punkish edge that made their music pop like bubbles in a bottle of shaken-up soda. They even end the album on a ballad, a serious breach of their self-imposed "no ballads" ideal that takes things out on a predictably low-energy note. Matt and Kim were never great stylists or brilliant songwriters, but they made their music work through insane displays of energy and an almost indefatigable spirit. There is precious little of either on display here, and New Glow ends up as their least enjoyable album to date.

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