The setup is simple: Kim hammers her stripped-down drum kit into a frenzy while Matt mashes raw, buzzing melodies from a couple old keyboards and shout-sings along. That’s it, both live and now on the self-titled debut. Well, on one track we do get some handclaps, on others, evidence of multitracking in the form of a third hand on the keys, but any more involved additions seem to have been deliberately pushed aside.
The obvious reference point for any new drums-and-keys (presumed) couples is inevitably going to be Mates of State, but that comparison is somewhat superficial. Where MoS deal in two-part harmonies and clever indie pop melodic flourishes, M&K discard such frills for an exhilarating, messy energy much more in line with the Brooklyn post-punk bands with which they’ve been sharing bills recently; (Parts & Labor and Japanther, in the case of the epic rooftop 4th of July party that introduced me to them). In fact, all three bands succeed via a similar apparent credo: be noisy, be catchy, be aggressive, be fun. This approach, applied through truly anthemic lo-fi post-punk songs, serves excellently on stage and has carried through into successful studio albums for both Parts and Labor and Japanther. Matt and Kim, relative newcomers to the Brooklyn concert circuit, seem to have aimed for a similar angle on their first studio album, albeit one with its noisiness reigned in somewhat by the exclusion of guitar or bass.
The results are about what you might expect, given such ingredients and background. Matt’s keyboards are efficiently catchy, filling in just as much melodic content as needed to keep the songs moving (often dropping to single notes on one hand) and to support his earnestly untrained vocal yelps and shouts. The keyboard patches have an unfortunate tendency to run together between songs, typically consisting, as they do, of a saw rumble organ for bass chords coupled with some kind of bracing, video-gamey blurt for the melodies. Kim’s drumming keeps solid, energetic pace, occasionally painting in flurries of cymbal noise or tapping out a simple fill as needed. Structurally, this is pop music 101 — verse / chorus / verse / chorus, and maybe, if you’re lucky, something like a bridge. The words themselves are often more-or-less space fillers: two songs have choruses consisting mostly of the word “yeah”. It’s not flashy, it’s not impressive, it’s not even particularly original, but suddenly none of that matters in the face of the instant, surprisingly fresh sing-along catchiness that somehow results from, and perhaps even because of, this degree of economy.
With such a consistently applied approach, it seems almost beside the point to dissect individual tracks, but still, there are standouts. First single “5k” is a good prototype (see the adorable violence of the video below, a fitting analog to the sound). Bright, long organ notes rage across the mix and give way to sharp stabs (one pictures the keyboards physically breaking and buckling with the force of the downstrokes — perhaps some sort of distortion is used, perhaps the volume is just cranked beyond its reasonable limits) as Matt’s doubled voice leads one of his most anthemic, fervid choruses. “Ready Okay” forefronts a worthy drum riff and eventual bubbling casiotones. “No More Long Years” breaks formation a bit with an almost hip-hop-like rhythmic punctuation. And “Someday” plows into its chorus with such blistering bass and crash of cymbals as to risk whiplash.
Isn’t this what punk was originally all about? Stripping music back to an entry-level formula where anyone could hop on stage, bang out vital, messy songs, and have fun? There’s no need for virtuoso musical training or voice lessons. All it really takes is the commitment and enthusiasm to truly give yourself over to your songs, to play like you mean it, to engage audiences and wrap them up in what you’re doing, and its through all of these qualities — surprisingly lacking in all too many bands — that Matt and Kim are ultimately able to succeed. Sure, they’ve boxed themselves in a bit with such a limited, repetitive setup on the album, and this will likely be off-putting to a few potential fans. But then again, could you really tell any two Ramones’ songs apart on first listen? nd presumably, hopefully, this new Brooklyn duo will have plenty of further releases to vary and develop its sound. Let’s enjoy the refreshing simplicity while we can.