If there were a king and queen of indie dance-pop, power couple Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino would be trashing the thrones, choosing to use them as stage props — with Schifino probably using her throne as a drumset. While there most likely won’t be any thrones at tomorrow’s show at the Fox Theater, the abundance of balloons, confetti and uninhibited dancing will more than make up for it. Now on their fourth studio album Lightning, the duo seem to have found a balance between their simple yet addictive melodies and the booming electronic presence that was characteristic of their last album, Sidewalks.
Much like their straightforward keys-and-drums approach, the duo’s songwriting process follows a KISS approach as well. “We like music that you can party to and shake your ass to,” said Schifino in a recent interview. “When we write, we are able to create exactly what we want to hear, so I feel like the changes that happen between albums are influenced by what we want to hear and make.”
That’s not to say that the couple keeps things mundane and routine. For this latest record, each song got its own music video that fans can stream as a playlist on their YouTube channel. “We wanted to make the songs available as ‘first-listen’ videos on YouTube so that it was accessible for everyone to hear, in case someone didn’t have the funds to purchase the album,” said Schifino.
Schifino also spoke about how Johnson was able to use his film studies degree to help with making these videos. Johnson would come up with most of the ideas and then help out with the execution. The duo’s experiments with videos range from seizure-inducing lyrical flashes to ping-pong games. The low-budget, homey videos provide a cost-free way to enjoy the new album, as well as keeping in the D.I.Y. spirit that Matt and Kim are known for.
Sticking to their roots, Lightning harkens back to the lighthearted “ooh-ahh” melodies that the duo started out with, while still maintaining the bombastic beats that characterize Sidewalks.
The album’s single, “Let’s Go,” seems to combine the two with deliciously catchy hooks and booty-shaking drums. “‘Let’s Go’ is a song that lies in between the styles of ‘Cameras’ off of Sidewalks and ‘Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare’ on Grand,” said Schifino. “We loved the treatment Dugan O’Neal had (with the video).” The video depicts the couple posing in a variety of estranged family photos, from suburban, sweater-vested yuppies to topless portraits with other families. “Man, there are a lot of crazy family photos out there,” said Schifino. “The stuff where you would think no one would seriously take that photo, but they do!”
While the other tracks lack O’Neal’s bizarre treatment, each one reeks of the distinctive spunk that Matt and Kim are known for. The driving snare and kick drums coupled with the deep, roaring synth on “Now” is a track mosh-worthy of rock ‘n’ roll shows. Conversely, the track “I Said” manages to keep up a bright, colorful tone despite the slightly more somber lyrics such as “Some days I feel like I’m doing time / I know you’re just as confused.”
With the addition of their video playlists, Matt and Kim triumph again with their unparalleled devotion to interaction with their fans. Known for their open, friendly chats with fans during their shows, the duo had stated before that they began in an era where bands rarely communicated with their fans. For them, it has always been about breaking out of that “too cool for you” mold and just keeping things loose and casual with the crowd. “I believe there are more artists coming out there that aren’t trying to keep a separation between the stage and the crowd,” said Schifino. “I feel like sometimes we forget that we should be playing music and spend a lot of time talking to the crowd and telling stories.”
Distracted or not, it’s hard not to feel welcomed by the duo’s bubbly behavior and never-fading smiles. The Fox Theater will need to prepare for the hyperactive duo’s overly zealous live performance, one which will surely be filled with wild stage antics, loving fan interaction and booty dancing.
“From when we started playing at house shows and art spaces and to where we are at now playing in venues we still want the same thing: a crazy fucking party,” said Schifino. “I really hope people come out and have a great time!”
Ian Birnam is the lead music critic. Contact Ian at [email protected]
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