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splendid > reviews > 11/11/2003
Mates of State
Mates of State
Team Boo
Polyvinyl


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Ha Ha"

Buy me now
Few husband-wife duos since Sonny and Cher have been able to convey their love through their music. Richard and Linda could dole out the pain, and so could Lindsey and Stevie, but affection is another story. I can think of only three current acts who make wedded bliss rock like sunshine: Ida, the Like Young, and Mates of State. Of the three, none are bolder or more infectious than drummer/keyboardist Jason Hammel and keyboard maestro Kori Gardner. The duo concocts honest poetry ("I wonder if I could tie the ocean to your knees") and poppy hooks that pull together the randomly joyful exclamations of their passion. In their music, you hear eyes meet, brows bend, and sticks pound through cement.

The idea of two lovers attached to a musical note might sound mushy, but it isn't; the group's purity breaks them free of the confines of the good or bad review, allowing them to shine. Like the Shaggs, they prove that emotions can be conveyed and shared. They're also catchy beyond compare. Though their songs feel more inspired than carefully conceived, Frank Zappa would have liked them too. You can't predict their melodies or the quirks of their delivery, and they redefine the concept of "unison"; it's as if they begin each song running for the "eye of the tiger", and then trip over their voices in happy, laughing chaos. Perhaps it's not brilliant music you want to discuss with the Resident Bore, but it's the stuff of genius. They have such a fervent faith in every thought they have that they sell you on them -- and that's the thrill of the fight for them: to make you know their terms, and accept them all.

Musically, Mates of State are still something like a happy, more interesting Quasi. Kori plays old "Runaway" keyboards with beautiful, wild abandon, breaking into circus theme songs at the drop of a smile, while Jason is as exciting and spirited as Grant Hart on drums. You can tell he sweats and sweats over this music, as much for his audience as for his own satisfaction. Opener "Ha Ha" sets the album's tone; its many sudden breaks and melodic twists bravely traverse pop's boundaries, while its tone recalls the feel-good loveliness of Ben Folds' "The Luckiest" -- at twice the speed. Kori's unexpected forays into rap also make that genre feel totally new, as if she discovered it, because the music seems two steps removed.

Team Boo is Mates of State's best album to date. It's also wonderfully balanced. Its three slower, less emotionally hyperactive ballads ("Parachutes", "When We Came Inside" and "Separate the People") not only possess true mainstream potential, they give Team Boo depth enough to be played on days when you're staring at your own beloved, or at your own shoes.



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