Matt & Kim, Beat & Beckett

August 31, 2009 | 6 books mentioned 3 4 min read

I like to be delighted and watching Brooklyn duo Matt & Kim (Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino) at the El Rey Theatre in downtown Los Angeles last week, I was. If you enjoy anything half as much as these two enjoy performing, count yourself among the blessed. And their pleasure is infectious: you might well feel, as I did—misanthropic soul that I am—a pleasure hardly less than theirs in watching them. The energy of their music and performance style is infectious too, which you’ll know if you’ve heard “Daylight,” the duo’s best and most popular song (it is, perhaps unfortunately, now featured in a Bacardi commercial). If you haven’t, check out the video:

coverWhile there are bands that will impress you more with musical virtuosity and melody, Matt and Kim’s sound—arresting in its beat-driven-ness and bright in its jangly piano and synth-poppiness—has an insistent, invigorating effect.  If you watch the music video for “Daylight,” note the scene in which Matt and Kim are sitting in a dumpster, nestled amidst the trash, playing their instruments.  A man throws more trash in on top of them and they continue to play. Kim continues smiling her radiant smile (also a little unsettling in its relentlessness), and keeps pounding her drumsticks on the edge of the dumpster. Watching this, listening to it, I feel strangely as if I am in the presence of a euphoric musical reincarnation of Samuel Beckett: “Quand on est dans la merde jusqu’ au cou, il ne rest plus qu’a chanter.” (When you are up to your neck in shit, there’s nothing left to do but sing.)

coverBeckett’s Endgame also comes to mind: Nag and Nell in their ashbins—toothless, legs amputated but still asking for pap.  The duo’s other videos—I’m thinking particularly of “Yea Yeah” and “5K“—reveal the world of absurdist comedy and violence to be milieus familiar and comfortable to the Brooklynites. The world may be a nonsensical and painful place, they seem to say, but if we choose to approach it with sufficient energy and humor we might achieve that best of modern states (Beckett again) “I Can’t Go On, I Must Go On.” Matt & Kim’s lyrics have an abstract nonsense quality that evokes e.e. cummings as well—the words might seem not to mean anything but, perhaps, for our time, they mean everything:

I have five clocks in my life
and only one has the time right
I’ll just unplug it for today
I’ll just unplug it for today

Open hydrant rolled down windows
This car might make a good old boat
And float down grand street in daylight
And float down grand street in daylight

This is what our life is: Ordered nonsense that we all accept helplessly (“Yea Yeah, Yea Yeah, Yea Yeah, Yea Yeah…”), but the horror is lessened if we can approach it with energy, pound the shit out of it with an uncompromising beat. The video for “5K”, banned on American MTV,  shares a certain kinship with Daniel Johnston’s song “Devil Town,” best known in its cover versions by Bright Eyes and Tony Lucca.  For all of the little and not-so-little girls mooning over the creepily paternalistic and Humbert-Humbert-y Edward from Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, Matt and Kim’s “5K” video speaks much more intelligently of our culture’s resurgent love of vampires than does the idiotic and thieving Twilight series.  (We are all vampires now, even authors of vampire fiction.  Twilight is an amalgam of plot elements sucked from the barely dead Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and the still quite alive Sookie Stackhouse novels, with a bit of Shakespeare and Emily Bronte more explicitly snatched and patched in along the way.  Only the faults of Stephenie Meyer’s novels are her own–Would that she had imbibed more in the way of character and dialogue from Joss Whedon and Charlaine Harris, or, albeit less probably, from Shakespeare and Bronte.)

coverNo, the happy dismemberment of Matt and Kim’s “5K” video displays a jolly cannibalistic feast that leaves everyone dead at the end (and recalls in its homemade gorefest effects early Peter Jackson movies like Dead-Alive); in this, it shows us the vampires we have become unbeknownst to ourselves.  We consume violence in our movies, our food (most of which, as it is currently produced, makes the planet and its creatures suffer), our wars, our dependence on cheap consumer goods whose cheapness is the result of exploitative labor practices. We cannot abstain from vampirism, as Twilight’s Edward does. To be dismayed by the video—man happily dismembering man with eating utensils—is to see our culture plain, a culture that we cannot but participate in. Our inexhaustible appetite for new stuff, our willingness to countenance inhumanity in the name of efficiency and convenience makes us all petty Draculas.

But I digress.  Matt and Kim’s bodies proclaim how delighted they are that you are listening to them and it is an experience rare in its authenticity and energy.  Whether Kim’s smile, or her biceps, or her sailor’s mouth is more impressive (according to her husband/Matt she has been described as having “the body of a 15-year-old boy and the mouth of a 69-year-old sailor”) is yours to decide.  I also note that the show at the El Rey is the only one I have been to where crowd surfing was actively encouraged and participated in by the band, as well as tolerated and managed by the stage security.  But don’t trust me. I am a paranoid, delusional melancholic with a tendency to over-read.  See for yourself! The band is on tour in the States through October, and then in Europe through December.  Worth a look and a listen, in spite of Rolling Stone’s mild dismissiveness.

is a staff writer for The Millions living in Virginia. She is a winner of the Virginia Quarterly's Young Reviewers Contest and has a doctorate from Stanford. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Times, In Character, VQR, Arts & Letters Daily, and The Daily Dish.

3 comments:

  1. Wonderful. I am delighted too! Hard to believe that a self-described “paranoid, delusional melancholic” can so freshly introduce Matt & Kim to themillions readership. Great videos, great writing. Happy days!

Add Your Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *