What do you call indie rock when it hits the mainstream? How do you square the idea of a genre that grew out of an anti-billboard movement with its runaway success? Movies like 500 Days of Summer, brands such as Urban Outfitters and widespread radio play for pop indie bands like Vampire Weekend have turned what began as a self-consciously anti-popular genre into a musical and cultural phenomenon. It’s Zooey Deschanel’s world, and we’re just living in it. “New Glow,” the latest album from Brooklyn-based indie-dance duo Matt and Kim, broaches the problems that indie music is going to face with its sustained popularity, but offers some fun dance tracks while they figure it out.
Matt and Kim’s sound has always been the irreverent, upbeat equivalent of kicking down Grand Street in Brooklyn in your beat-up Chuck Taylor sneakers on a sunny day. Just some broke hipster kids, tearing up New York City and having the time of their lives doing it.
Their breakout album, “Grand” (2009) secured them that identity and their struggle three albums later is not letting that personality become a caricature. In the disappointingly lethargic and generally unpleasant “I SeeYa,” they reflect on their whirlwind success: “The past six years/have been one big blur/don’t know where I was/or where you are.” If Matt and Kim want their audience to learn to love them as rockstars rather than a lo-fi garage band, half-hearted tracks like “I See Ya” are not the way to do it.
That’s not to say that Matt and Kim can’t innovate, nor do they have to stick to their same successful tropes. In fact, when they try to do so, it sounds derivative and tired. “Not Alone” recycles the same piano intro from their first big hit, “Daylight” (2009), that they also used in “Not That Bad” (2012) and evoked in “Wires” (2010). Although all three tracks reference “Daylight,” “Not Alone” is the most obvious attempt to recycle their biggest success. “Through the pain and hate/ here come brighter days” starts to sound a lot like 2009’s more fun “This car might make a good boat/and float down Grand Street in daylight.”
The true successes on the album show that Matt and Kim have kept their creativity and sense of humor as pioneers in indie-tronic, youthful music. “Hey Now,” the opening track, is the runaway hit of the album, featuring apologetically fun electro-swing instrumentals. Although the musical creativity alone would be enough to set “Hey Now” apart, the lyrics — “If you died/ I’d die right by your side” — are a funny, un-sly nod to The Smiths’ iconic “To die by your side/Well the pleasure/ The privilege is mine,” which Deschanel’s character also references in 500 Days of Summer and serves as a classic wink and nod for all the other “indie kids” out there.
A final highlight, and one of the few other instances of truly “new” material on “New Glow,” is the laugh- out-loud funny “Hoodie On.” The perfect embodiment of hipster, partly-ironic, partly-not-kidding almost- swagger, “Hoodie On” is an anthem to those who are just a little too self-effacing to have a real anthem. “I don’t dress up too much/got a hoodie on/Look lookin’ like a king with a hoodie on” Matt and Kim sing, recalling the 2009 pre-fame Matt and Kim, who were content to “cut the legs off of our pants/Throw our shoes in the ocean” and “sit back and wave through the daylight.”
Photo Courtesy of Matt and Kim