I’ll start this off by saying that before first listening to the new Mates of State album, I'd heard only one of their songs. I've more recently spent the past two weeks walking past a poster of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel in full embrace, hanging in front of a club they will be performing at this spring. The couple, married and stomach-churningly indie, apparently have good thing going. They are the envy of the twee revolution, like the Belle and Sebastian’s kid sister and his girlfriend.
On the duo’s fourth release, Give It Back, the band works itself between Hammond organ sparkles and down tempo piano love rock. It goes without saying that lyrically, much of the album focuses on, well, how much they love (and maybe sometimes hate) each other. The lyrics, like a relationship in-joke, at times feel voyeuristic for the listener. It’s like the two are giving each other relationship pep talks, which just happen harmonize perfectly and rhyme.
Of the two members, Gardner has the stronger voice and is more often front and center on most of the songs. Hammel, reminding me plenty of Michael Showalter in Wet Hot American Summer, often takes harmony duty behind his wife. It works well for a most of the songs, though it’s disconcerting to hear his wife’s voice maintain a lower pitch than his own.
The album's opener, Think Long, takes a different route than the sound the band appears to adhere too. Rather than bouncing bubble-gum lyrical trysts, the music gets denser and more orchestrated, showing a creative depth hasn’t touched before. At other points, pianos cover over any lover’s transgressions.
Musically, the band appears to have an off/on relationship (which appears to be the overall theme here) with their Hammond organ. It’s clear when the duo is being light and cheeky and when we’ve entered serious song mode (which is typically about someone not understanding the other), when the piano kicks in. The organ pipes with great twee abandon, making all the plaid skirt dreamers happy, but songs on piano are blatantly more straightforward.
For the most part, drum and guitars are few and far between, showing up only in the second half of the album. On On a Fantasy, a fuzz-out riff backs the matching couple vocals (this song they are in love, and as you can surmise, are living in a fantasy.)
The band continues to strengthen its fan base, and will no doubt bring some more thirty-something couples into their mix. Gardner and Hammel recently had a child, and if its parents still making albums like this, I imagine it will know nothing but rainbows and the almighty power of love. My guess is the kid’s in therapy by twenty.
Mates of State : Bring It Back Track List: 01 Think Long
02 Fraud In The 80's
03 Like U Crazy
04 Beautiful Dreamer
05 What It Means
06 For The Actor
07 Nature & The Wreck
08 So Many Ways
10 Running Out