By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
Matt and Kim put a coffee-stained envelope addressed to their Grand Street apartment on the cover of their first EP, To/From. But then, high school kids started mailing the Brooklyn couple unchaste letters—dirty fantasies involving them. Together. Intimately. "It was kind of creepy," admits Kim. Newer prints of the EP safely reroute correspondences to an ice-cream-truck depot blocks away, but such misguided adulation tells you two things about this drum-and-keys happy-rock duo: 1) Their home is a major motif, and 2) They are inseparable, even in inappropriate fiction.
Matt and Kim, the people, are Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino, two New England natives who studied at Pratt and met at a party. Matt and Kim, the band, are a party, an immensely likable clap-punk blast universally known for their boisterous live shows. Onstage, Matt sings, attacks keyboards, and narrates with the wild, rapturous glee of a lottery winner; Kim kicks the shit out of her drum set and smiles so adorably she makes babies jealous. If this strikes you as nauseating, you're just not acquainted. "We think we're really good at winning over people who aren't necessarily there to see us," Matt says. Case in point: At Lollapalooza 2007, they killed an unenviable first-set-of-the-day slot so handily that when Brazilian costume spectacle Cansei de Ser Sexy canceled at the last minute, Matt and Kim were asked to fill in as a main-stage closer.
Incongruously, the duo's self-titled 2006 full-length couldn't channel that magnetism. Full of pots-and-pans beats, overly enunciated verses, and robo-fart sequencers, Matt and Kim mostly functioned as a keepsake. "If you go to iTunes and read user comments, there're so many of them that are like, 'Oh, I like it, but you have to see them to get it,' " Matt says. "Which was kind of true." He and Kim are sitting at the kitchen table of their Williamsburg apartment, both in hoodies—hers red, his black with the Ramones crest—and eating pesto-and-olive pasta she's cooked. "I don't know what it is when we just sit down there and play that makes people get it. But we just wanted to make a recording that could stand on its own—no disclaimer."
Which brings us to Grand, an 11-song spectacular named after the street where they've lived for four and a half years, in a railroad flat near the endlessly whooshing BQE ("our ocean"). Shared with Matt's brother, Fletcher, it's a typical New York–specific feat of vertical storage and spatial economy: The couple's front bedroom is also a makeshift recording studio, merch storehouse, and office space. In the living room, the eight-feet-wide walls are so narrow that Matt can touch them simultaneously, outstretched with one fingertip and one toe. (Earlier, he tried to demonstrate with a violent arabesque, but got a butt cramp and crumpled to the floor, laughing.) There's a jellybean dispenser on the kitchen table, and a photo of Kim kissing Matt on the fridge.
Yes, it's like that. They share a bank account, a cell phone, and a career. Matt cuts Kim's hair. (There is a picture of this on their blog.) When Kim isn't at home, Matt sometimes sits on the couch and stares at the wall. (Fletcher says so.) They are relentlessly adorable, which Kim, too, finds disgusting: "If someone said to me, 'You should check out this band—they're really cute,' I would never go see a band like that." Alas, the invitations to headline Valentine's Day bills keep piling up—retch—but (thankfully) the answer's no. "We try to push away the 'cute' factor a lot, but it just keeps coming," Kim says, grinning so adorably you half-expect puppies and rainbows to explode out of her head.
Frankly, Williamsburg could use such genuine mascots in 2009. While the Edge—a heinous waterfront development of penthouses and roof decks still threatening to open despite the economic meltdown—still has an ad up half a block from the Music Hall of Williamsburg that reads "ROCK: INDIE BANDS + STONE COUNTERTOPS," our heroes spent last year laying down vocal tracks in their cozy bedroom, writing lyrics in McCarren Park, and mixing via a computer by the front window in between tours. So when it came time to name the release, there was only one choice. "Grand Street just kept coming up," says Matt. "I never even thought about that until someone asked me—as if I'd named it Matt and Kim's Awesome Album. But hell, I'm really proud of it. I might as well have named it Matt and Kim's Awesome Album."
That would've been both true and completely in character. Grand is a collection of radiant, life-affirming mini-anthems about sleeping late, being excited, and running around Brooklyn. "Spare Change," a minute-plus clapping-game jingle, nicely sums up the overall tone: "Wild and free/You've got no place to be." So does this exuberant stanza from "Daylight": "I have five clocks in my life/And only one has the time right/I'll just unplug it for today." (You are invited to read these lines as a triumph over the competing distractions of worldly obligation, but Matt and Kim do actually have a clock collection at home, and only one of them works.) Cinders, a Havemeyer gallery that Chief magazine accurately described as the "ULTIMATE bad-vibe repellant" (and where both Matt and Kim have shown work), gets its own eponymous spazz-jam quickie. There are hard-earned victory-lap proclamations and bleacher-stomping rallies, but also a la-la-la-ing toy-piano lullaby called "Turn This Boat Around" and the downright wistful "Lessons Learned," which is either about regrets or doggie bags.