KUNM

Mates Of State: Reaching Surprising New 'Mountaintops'

Sep 29, 2011
Originally published on September 29, 2011 4:15 pm

The members of Mates of State are literally mates: Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel have been a duo since 1996, married since 2001, and parents on tour since 2004. Their basic concept is two strong voices, Gardner's slightly predominant, over her keyboards and Hammel's drums. Over the years, the band has expanded its instrumental range and brought in guests for sonic color. But nothing in the pair's catalog anticipated "Palomino," the opening track from the new Mountaintops.

The musical elements of "Palomino" are the same as ever: organ, drums, vocals. But they're more expansive and ebullient, drenched in echo for extra dimension. Always too sinewy for synth-pop, which didn't stop people from slotting the band that way, Mates of State suffuses Mountaintops with a full, old-fashioned pop sound that just happens to do without the big guitars usually associated with that aesthetic.

"Total Serendipity" is another standout track, one of many on Mountaintops where catchy chorus tops melodic verse. Lyrically, it seems to celebrate the beginning of the duo's relationship. But though Gardner and Hammel write realistically, avoiding both the cryptic verbiage of indieland and the romantic generalizations of contemporary pop, their songs seldom capitalize explicitly on their connubial back story. Their message of fulfillment is in their music. And just because they're fulfilled, that doesn't mean they want to stay the same.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

The indie pop duo Mates of State has actively toured and recorded for 15 years now. But it's only now, with the pair's sixth album, "Mountaintops," that our critic Robert Christgau thinks they've figured out their right sound.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: Mates of State are literally mates. Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel have been a duo since 1996, married since 2001, and parents on tour since 2004. Their basic concept is two strong voices over Kori's keyboards and Jason's drums - as on this snatcher, "Fluke," from their 2003 album, "Team Boo."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLUKE")

MATES OF STATE: (Singing) We don't need to drive. Hang us out to dry. We don't need to drive. We don't need to. I saw you walking on the sidewalk. Your head was taller than the trees. The reconstruction had just started.

CHRISTGAU: Although "Flute" kicks, it's pretty spare. Over the years, Mates of State have expanded their instrumental range and brought in guests for sonic color, but nothing in their catalog prepared me for "Palomino," the opening track on their new album, "Mountaintops."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PALOMINO")

OF STATE: (Singing) You know you're not in hell, Palomino. We were born on the other side. We were wild and living, wild and living.

CHRISTGAU: "Palomino's" musical elements are the same as ever - organ, drums, vocals - but they're more expansive and ebullient, drenched in echo for extra dimension, always too sinewy for synth-pop even though some slotted them that way. Mates of State suffuse "Mountaintops" with a full, old-fashioned pop sound that just happens to do without the big guitars usually associated with that aesthetic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOTAL SERENDIPITY")

OF STATE: (Singing) I'm stuck in life, I let it be. I see the beauty in the subtleties. A man, he turns to me, a passing grin. No, I belong to him in my imagination. She almost didn't give you the message. Where would we be if she never gave you the message.

CHRISTGAU: The song we just heard, "Total Serendipity," is one of many on "Mountaintops" where catchy chorus tops melodic verse. Lyrically, it celebrates the beginning of Kori and Jason's relationship. Mates of State write realistically, avoiding the cryptic verbiage of indie rock and the romantic generalizations of contemporary pop. But their songs seldom capitalize so explicitly on their connubial back-story. Their message of fulfillment is in the music. Still, being fulfilled needn't mean wanting to stay the same. That's why they made this album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANGE")

OF STATE: (Singing) Oh, change is gonna' come. Change is gonna' come. You'd better welcome it. Change is gonna' come and it's gonna' set you free. Change is gonna' come. Change is gonna' come.

BLOCK: The new album from Mates of State is "Mountaintops." Our reviewer is Robert Christgau.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.