SONIC REDUCER What's the expiration date on cute? Is it just limited to the length of time you can tag a cat a kitten, pull off head-to-toe pink, tolerate unironic smiley faces, or maintain a Britney Spears fan site? Does anyone older than 21 still strive to be cute or anyone not in a boy band, not a showgirl, not wearing mouse ears? Maybe cool stole cute's thunder around the time kindercore and twee pop faded from view, got into Stanford, and sold their Belle and Sebastian albums, because except for the brief bandying about of the posicore label, as embodied by inspirational party starters like Hawnay Troof and Barr, cute has been, alas, the wallflower at the hoodies' and headbangers' balls. Even indie kids have generally distanced themselves from the terrifyingly twinkly adjective cute and all its shiny, blank surfaces just doesn't fit the grim, grimy tenor of the times.
Perhaps that's why it's the moment for Matt and Kim, the Brooklyn drum-and-keyboard successors to Mates of State and the latest, freshest, most upbeat iteration of the rock duo approach to come along since all those bands with "-s" tacked to their names. They're supercute; get the kids to dance, stage-dive, and generally act up at their live shows; dream up funny, lovable, and yes, cute videos of food fights; and make lots of energetic pop punk (not to be confused with punk pop and Hilary Duff dumpees). The c word has been a hassle, though. "We get cornered into 'cute' a lot as a category," says Matt (né Johnson, 24) from Brooklyn, where he and Kim (last name: Schifino, 25) have settled down briefly amid their nonstop traversing of the country, spreading the gospel of fun. "If someone told me a band was a really cute band, I wouldn't want to see that band. But a lot of people enjoy it we smile, we have fun, Kim's cute. I mean, a lot of people say that we're cute in a really positive way, and that's fine, but I wouldn't want a video or photo shoot where we're swinging on swings. I don't want to brand ourselves as cutecore."
The "core" suffix is the kiss of death, isn't it? Worse than the "-s" because it sounds like it might be cool there might be a community of sorts there, but instead there's just the distinct whiff of curdling dismissiveness. Similarly, all the bands that got tagged "screamo" should have just fallen on the neck of their guitars the instant they heard that insult applied to their music.
"Kim doesn't like cute," Johnson says.
Thus the band decided to drench its new video for "5k," from its self-titled debut on IHEARTCOMIX, with fake blood, mock dismemberment, and pseudo gore. The pair aren't afraid to mix a little jeopardy into their joy so they're not too scared of the warm winter that's throwing down in their Brooklyn neighborhood at the moment we talk. "Over in New York City it's ridiculous!" Johnson raves. "People are wearin' T-shirts. It's 70 degrees. It's like the end of the world. It's definitely colder in San Francisco in the summer than New York City in January."
Yet the unseasonable heat fits the sunny dispositions of the two-and-a-half-year-old combo, who haven't had any time to write new songs since they bought their touring van in October 2005 ("We used to travel in an '89 Honda Civic sedan and cram in all the stuff to the roof and drive with the back on the ground and the front in the air"). "We're totally a summertime band," says Johnson, a onetime political punk fan who worked in film production.
"We like fun songs and fun things related to summer. I guess people get a little grumpier in winter, so as far as writing fast and up-spirited songs goes, it's much better for it."
Never ones to shun the fun times, Matt and Kim still agree it's the worst of times that stand out.