(Polyvinyl Records) - 3.3999 out of 5.0
Can you imagine what a smile sounds like? Mates of State can. They took hold of that expression’s universal essence and bound it to the tracks of Team Boo. “It all begins with a smile,” they coo, and it’s very true; these offerings are the sonic reverberations of faces beaming with toothy brightness.
While living and playing music in Lawrence, KS, Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner got together around 1997 and formed the duo Mates of State. Amidst moving to San Francisco, touring the country, signing to Polyvinyl Records and getting married, the Mates have released three full-length albums, each featuring a unique combination of gleaming vintage organ sounds, crashing drum work, and starry-eyed vocal harmonies. Hammel and Gardner have utilized elements of their past albums (My Solo Project (2000), and Our Custom Concern (2002)) to create a patchwork of songs that seem to rearticulate their previous songwriting efforts under a new circumstance.
The opening track, “Ha Ha,” initially features the characteristic syncopation and repetition that Mates of State have maintained as their style, but also explores something of a new sound with a beep-like breakdown midway through. But the immensely high dosages of pure charm won’t relent. I bet you haven’t heard trills like Gardner’s since that eighth-grade concert ensemble rehearsal. “Whiner’s Bio” is something Billy Joel might have recorded if he wasn’t preoccupied with trying to get in your mom’s pants back in 1977; the innocent trumpet accompaniments that break out mid-song are enough to rocket your heart into the skies every time.
Let’s talk about the song “Fluke.” You know you’ve just heard a great love song when you hear the words “I’m about to bust” being sung in unison. Amazing!
Can you imagine how beautiful their live shows must be? Big red papier-mâché hearts hanging from the ceiling, gorgeous teenage girls donning bob haircuts clutching LP’s of Team Boo tight to their breasts, with all the yawning kittens your mind can take before it explodes from incalculable cuteness.
But don’t think it’s all grinning and sinning on this album. Down tempo arrangements like “Separate the People,” and “Parachutes (Funeral Song)” put the good times, found within tracks like “Gotta Get a Problem” and “Sound It Off,” on hiatus while the Mates of State reflect on the somber elements of their lives. Like when Hammel totally acted like an asshole on the way to the movies by making fun of Gardner’s theories on the resemblances of Freddy Mercury and Freddy Prince, Jr. She wrote a song about that and a bunch of other “really mean” things he probably did. Now he has to remember “all the insensitive things he’s done” whenever she wants to play the damn songs.
Using a simple musical equation for writing songs has proved quite useful for Mates of State; memorable vocal hooks, pleasant harmonies, and the use of rabid waltz beats, has resulted in another novel record, which may easily get on the nerves of a certain phallus-possessing demographic. Though the lyrical topics and tonalities might be close to running the gimmick of “Lovers-in-Love Making Lovely, Lovely Music for Other’s Lovers’ Lovers” into the ground, there is no detracting from the underlying elements of genuine unaffectedness that Mates of State continually parade in their albums.