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CD Review: Mates Of State – Bring It Back

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I did it! I think I have discovered the cure for depression! Bring It Back! Mates Of State’s newest is an album full of infectious indie-pop, from which the only disease you will catch is love.

As far as gimmicks go, this band has got the very best – a husband and wife duo, who recently had a daughter, dropped their day jobs as a teacher and a cancer researcher, and have been touring the world since 2001. Of course, Mates Of State are the real thing and don’t need a gimmick to make a fan of you or me.

Bring It Back is the couple’s fourth full-length album (among a handful of EPs and singles), and it marks a new evolution for the band. Technical knowledge acquired from the road through extensive touring over the years was “brought back” to the studio, leading to greater experimentation in the studio during the recording of Bring It Back. Also, their writing and recording style had to mature as they had to also be a mommy and daddy. Instead of their normal way of writing in small durations throughout the year, they had to compress their efforts into a few hour shifts and then fine-tune their work individually.

As much as I love Mates Of State, I have to say that the songwriting shift can be heard. Bring It Back does not stand up as tall as their last full length, Team Boo. Fans of the Mates’ previous works will definitely be able to tell contemporary Mates Of State from older releases. That being said, Bring It Back still has that ‘classic’ Mates Of State sound lead by the bass-heavy organ of Kori Gardner and the creative drumming of hubby Jason Hammel. Fans will still hear the vocal harmonies of these lovers over the complex and lighthearted music.

Bring It Back begins with “Think Long,” which sets the pace for the rest of the album. The very upbeat, chipper drumming and shouts of ‘get up or get out’ in the background by Hammel lay the foundation for Gardner’s sultry voice which takes us back to Mates Of State days past. The vocals at times overlap and then other times are alternating, and are sometimes hard to discern because of Hammel and Gardner’s similar voices (that’s a nice way of saying “Jason Hammel sounds like a girl).

Things turn down-tempo for the track “Like U Crazy,” which is an organ ballad complete with “wah, wah-ooo’s” that belong in a do-wop song. The fade out drums and organ segue perfectly into the upbeat “Beautiful Dreamer,” which becomes one of Bring It Back’s down points. Within the next few tracks they alternate between really peppy and zesty to snoozey and boring. The “snoozey” tracks are very good, if you listen to them out of the context of the album. It’s a tease. The essence of Mates Of State- that really upbeat, put a smile on your face indie pop – gets dragged down by too many mellow organ ballads.

Bring It Back finishes up strong, with the one of the catchiest choruses on the album in “So Many Ways.” This Barsuk Records debut lacks that weird, off-kilter organ playing of Kate Gardner in many of the tracks, but “Punchlines” is one that fans of former Mates tracks such as “Ah Ha” will love. “Running Out” is the perfect closer for this ten track indie-pop gem. It has everything you could want in a Mates of State track – lush music, perfect vocals, great lyrics, a choir, a didgeridoo, and a fade-out chorus that will have you singing along all two minutes, and trust me, you won’t get “tired of singing” either!

As Mates Of State have evolved and adapted over the years, so has their music, and fans will definitely be able to tell. So, if you have never heard Mates Of State before, this may be the perfect introduction for you! Their older material may be a little weirder and harder to digest. The first time I heard Team Boo (which was my introduction to the band) I was very weirded out by them. Bring It Back is a gentler introduction to the world of Mates Of State, but won’t leave you smiling any less.

Fans of Belle & Sebastian, Rilo Kiley, Stars, Jenny Lewis, The Concretes, Page France, Rainer Maria, Neko Case, Tilly & The Wall, The New Pornographers, Sufjan Stevens, Death Cab For Cutie, The Flaming Lips, or David Bowie might dig this album.

For more information, tour dates, MP3s and the like, please visit the Mates Of State homepage or their new label, Barsuk Records.

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