When describing Mates of State, the first word that comes to mind is “adorable.” This is a tricky adjective to describe music—what does “adorable music” sound like exactly? — but there is no denying how adorable this indie-pop duo is.
Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel have been playing together for eight years. She plays keyboard, he plays the drums and they sing in intertwining melodies with stacked harmonies. Their music is an expression of their love to the fullest extent. For instance, their debut album, “My Solo Project,” is stuffed with the infatuation and small arguments that build during the early stage of a relationship.
All of their songs are unabashedly honest about what is going on between them, like “Everybody Needs an Editor,” in which they both sing, rolling their eyes at each other: “I feel right all the time / I am right all the time … Cut me some slack, it’s my side of the mountain … And if I might, it’s my side of the bed.”
As the years went by, their undeniable connection grew. They quit their day jobs (small, blonde Kori was a schoolteacher, and lanky Jason was researching cancer) and got married. In the six years since, they’ve had two girls. Growing older and raising a family has by no means hampered their music, and if anything, their sound has matured. With each album, they’ve tamed their initial sound composed of rough, messy synth, rambunctious drums and battling vocal lines. Depending on your personal musical preferences, this may or may not be a good thing.
With its most recent album, “Re-Arrange Us,” Mates of State has successfully rounded all the edges it once had. Its sound is a lot fuller, and Kori prefers a lush piano to her old eclectic keyboards. The production makes them sound more like a family than just a duo, since vocals are over-dubbed, and strings and horns flesh out its previously bare aesthetic. Gone are the minor chords, and the dueling lyrics between Kori and Jason have eased into mostly simultaneous lines.
What does this all mean? Well, old fans of Mates of State might be disappointed—the transformation here is not unlike the latest releases from Modest Mouse or The White Stripes, who have also traded in their DIY sounds for more “commercial” songs. However, “Re-Arrange Us” is not a bad album by any means. Even though its latest topics involve marital complacency, or the struggle to be individuals with two kids (in one song, they remind each other that “When the kids are all grown, we’ll still have this blue and gold paint,” referring to a previous argument about wallpaper). Mates is definitely still enjoyable. And although its music is more “family-friendly” – so to speak – Mates of State is still pretty damn indie.
Mates of State seems to be aware of the response that people might have to its latest music, and they respond to possible negative sentiments with the song “Jigsaw,” where they sing, “I like the old songs better,” quickly reminding its fans that “this was made for you and me.” This band has always been and always will be the ultimate expression of their relationship, and they’re still performing because it’s what they love, regardless of anyone else. However, later in that song, they suggest, “you could see us through.” So, they love each other…but they’d also love it if you could love them. And I’d love it, too.