Mates of State, Mountaintops

Laura Leebove

By Laura Leebove

Managing Editor
on 09.13.11 in Reviews

Husband-and-wife indie-pop outfit Mates of State have come far from the barebones organ-and-drums duo they started as in the late ’90s. Where Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel’s vocals used to be urgent and detached, they’re now smoother and more relaxed; they’ve also expanded their records’ instrumentation with strings, horns and a wider variety of electronics and keyboards, and dropped the signature electric organ that drove their first few releases. It’s been a natural progression — 2008′s Re-arrange Us was a collection of sugary pop songs that found the pair at their most melodic and polished — and their sixth proper LP, Mountaintops, follows the same path while adding a couple new twists.

Like any MoS release, there’s no shortage of feel-good pop: In “At Least I Have You” they sing, “Oh, it’s cold/ I know/ But it reminds me of something/ At least I have you,” and in “Total Serendipity,” it’s “Oh, you’re a pot of gold and you’re sitting at the rainbow’s edge/ Oh, there’s a marigold growing in between your toes.” But there’s also a darkness to tracks like the closer, “Mistakes” (sorta self-explanatory) and “Unless I’m Led,” which encourages, “Oh lil’ girl, pick up the pieces.”

The obvious highlight is “Maracas,” driven by a funky, dissonant synth pattern and what sounds like a triumphant return of the duo’s electric organ. “Basement Money” also has nods to their earlier work but charges forward with ’80s-inspired synths in the chorus of “We wait/ We don’t give up.” There are a couple misses, too, though, most notably the cheesy lyrics that start “Basement Money,” (“Let’s make a cold idea warm in the back of the basement”) and a couple of tracks that drag on near the end (“Desire,” “Change”). Mountaintops isn’t likely to make new fans out of anyone who’s not into the band’s previous work, but there’s plenty here for loyal followers to enjoy.