Release Date: Sep 13, 2011
Record label: Barsuk
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Kori Gardner and Jason Gammel, better known as Mates of State, have spent a good portion of their 14-year career recharging whatever super-strength black market battery powers the married couple’s upbeat and complex synth pop. With an extensive catalog, the energetic pace of the duo’s albums mirrors a sugar-laced Red Bull/espresso fusion without taking an obnoxious route—a pretty awesome accomplishment considering the sheer amount of cutesy husband/wife pop duos that sprout up on an almost daily basis. By harnessing their caffeine-like qualities for well over a decade, Mates of State has added to its diverse fan base with each new release.
By the time they released Mountaintops in 2011, Mates of State had been a band for over a decade, a span of time that most bands would find impossible to cover without becoming stale or completely losing the plot. Kori Gardner (keyboard/vocals) and Jason Hammel (drums/vocals) somehow manage to sound both fresh and focused on their sixth album. Writing a batch of songs that have a sharp emotional punch, tons of hooks, and a real-life lyrical angle certainly helps.
In the early 2000s, it was not terribly uncommon to meet a punk kid with a soft spot for the Mates of State. Though I'm sure the word "joycore" was often stammered in justification, it actually made a lot of sense: There was an unmistakable DIY spirit to the band's earliest material. Husband-and-wife duo Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner's voices joined in imperfect, occasionally overripe harmony, and their songs were patchwork pieces with seams proudly showing ("We attach parts together until they make a whole song," they once confessed)-- all of which added to their debut record's unique and infectious charm.
Review Summary: That awkward dinner together when you realize you already know everything you care to know about your date.It’s already difficult enough for me to convince my girlfriend to watch Man vs. Food when another interminable episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is drawing her into its manicured claws, and we haven’t been together for over a decade nor released seven studio albums of quality indie pop. Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner have, and while I can’t say anything about their divergent television interests, I can imagine that years of touring and stressful studio sessions would create their fair share of tension.
Way back in 2000 (that phrase seems so wrong), the debut disc from Mates of State, My Solo Project, was much lauded for its gleeful, rough-around-the-edges take on indie pop. The married duo of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel propelled themselves forward on rabbit-thump drumming, gleaming keyboards, arching vocal harmonies, and, probably, a pretty decent amount of sugar. Their pop hooks were readily apparent, but there was a charming messiness about the thing, a sincerity that shone through in the fact that this wasn’t lo-fi for effect, that these were two musicians finding their own place, their own sound, and their own potential.
Mates of State have managed to create their own distinct sound by keeping it simple. It's been all about Kori Gardner's keys and Jason Hammel's drums (oh, they're married, if you haven't heard) and the duo's strident, catchy vocal interplay. If it's a basic pop sound, it's one that works, and the best of their songs may seem simple, but they move in deceptively intricate ways.
Among the most dependable indie rock institutions of the previous decade, Mates of State have endured precisely because they have always managed to transcend the novelty inherent in their makeup. A duo initially consisting of husband Jason Hammel on drums and wife Kori Gardner on organ—sharing vocals with their unique brand of shouty, excited back-and-forths—Mates of State always had both their sonic limitations and decidedly un-rock ‘n’ roll cuddliness working against them. The latter they combated by simply embracing it outright, coming off like an internet-era John and Yoko circa Double Fantasy, penning sweet odes to domesticity on their albums and a presenting a warm vision of marital bliss on-stage (The band now even tours with their two young children and a nanny in tow).
Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel have re-embraced the organ-meets-drum dynamic for their quirky, lo-fi indie-pop. Mountaintops, the pair's seventh studio album, feels like a long mash note between the long-married couple, charting the highs and lows of connubial (sometimes) bliss. The melancholy "Unless I'm Led," a tale of loneliness in partnership, is paired with the adorable "Total Serendipity," which leads out with a sly sung "unicorns!" that feels like a wink at the duo's hearts-and-flowers image.