JOY DIVISION Their music may be upbeat, but, says Matt, “It’s not like we write songs about swing sets and lollipops or some shit like that.”
Matt and Kim might be a band of modest numbers, but when they play even the most average of sets, they generate megatons of goodwill. On drums is Rhode Island native Kim Schifino, who whips at her kit while wearing the perpetual smile of someone receiving an unending stream of awesome birthday presents. Matt Johnson, her Vermont-born on- and off-stage partner, pokes at his keyboard, singing and beaming like a teenager on the cusp of finally getting to second base. Since there's no one else around to take over their instruments if they feel like moving around the stage while playing, the Brooklyn-based indie-pop/dance-punk duo must expend their energy within a confined space. Still, they vibrate and move as if they were desperate to break out of that invisible box.
Speaking from the road, Johnson mentions that, while performing recently in Portland, Oregon, he pondered their inability to sit still. He characterizes his fidgeting as "if I was doing some sort of really extreme pee dance."
Lots of tomfoolery occurs during Matt and Kim shows (one of which will take place next Thursday at the House of Blues). They toss out balloons so audience members can blow them up and let them go during a given song. They also play covers of Europe's "The Final Countdown," Biz Markie's "Just a Friend," and R. Kelly's "Ignition" with the freewheeling charm of drunken 2 am karaoke. Johnson sometimes attempts to handstand on his keyboard (probably a side effect of the pee dance). Should inspiration strike her, Schifino will take a moment between songs to get up, turn her back to the audience, and shake her ass up and down. Even though they're far removed from the days of DIY shows, Matt and Kim still play as if they were joking around with friends they're trying to impress. This unabashed demeanor makes them ridiculously endearing.
But, as is the case with everything else out there, haters will do what they do best, and Matt and Kim have received flak for being too enthusiastic. Johnson remembers catching a few comments on music blog BrooklynVegan. "It was just shit like, 'What do they got to be so happy about?' The thing is, while our music is upbeat, our lyrics tend to have a darker side. It's not like we write songs about swing sets and lollipops or some shit like that. Even with an upbeat song, it being a bit more thoughtful keeps things balanced and gives it more substance."
Working beneath their music's lustrous exterior, Johnson strings together some interesting and surprisingly complex ideas. Gorgeously curling synth backs "Daylight" (from last year's Grand), which celebrates a day of roaming in the sunshine, free from the responsibilities of adulthood. But there's still an underlying sadness about these temporal pleasures, a youthful nostalgia that sounds far better than being a grown-up. "Yea Yeah," Matt and Kim's party song to top all party songs, appears to be about Johnson's anxiety issues. "Cameras," from the brand-new Sidewalks (Fader), offers another stark juxtaposition: warbling, wobbly electronica shares space with lyrics about ignoring cameras when enjoying precious moments because, "We'll be gone when we're dead."