Mates of State – Mountaintops

written by: August 22, 2011
Mates of State - Mountaintops album cover Release Date: September 13th, 2011


Mates of State often have a tendency of sounding whiney and immature when they reach the loudest or most focal point of the song. It’s easy to notice this pattern as the album progresses from beginning to end. By the fifth song, you might be wondering if it gets any better.

It really doesn’t. The same things happen at the end of Mountaintops that does in the beginning.  It doesn’t get worse; it simply stays at the same level.

Much of Mates of State’s work seems to be focused on the sound rather than the words. The words lack in substance, and it’s fortunate that Mountaintops is so bountiful in its mixing quality that it covers a bit of lost ground where there is an empty presence in songwriting charms. It’s cool how the group chooses to use drumstick beats and vocal rounds on Mountaintops to fill the back of the tracks.

What’s also neat is the juxtaposition of traditional instruments like acoustic guitar, bouncy piano and even horns with interesting electronic beats. There isn’t another act that can successfully pull off the combination of new and old, vintage and modern, and do it so well.

Take for example early jam “Sway.” It’s a light and lively song that’s sure to get anybody in the right mood. Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel switch off in taking lines and ultimately come together to make magic when their voices trail together making harmonies. When this happens, all is right in every aspect of musical greatness.

The lyrical work, contrarily, remains very simplistic and juvenile.  Many of the tunes are too light and feathery in their mood to the point where it could be mistaken for children’s music. “Total Serendipity” speaks of “marigolds growing between toes” and “pots of gold sitting at the rainbow’s edge.”

It’s quite like eating candy for supper: indulging in such peppy tunes for a full set is sure to cause a stomachache before the end of the album.

The other two greatest songs on the album fall toward the end. “At Least I Have You” is a fast-paced ode to one another. It features chiming anthem type of backings and becomes very wonderful in its message when the bridge includes chipper “la la la la”s that completes the effect of the song precisely.

A slower indie pop track is titled “Desire,” a melancholy story of differences in love. When the female vocalist chimes, she is innocent and tame. When the man sings, he is upset and dangerous. We, as listeners, feel two things at once even though they are singing the same lyric. This is a rare moment of excellence on Mountaintops.

The usual Mates of State sort of husband-wife harmonies actually get very old once the listener is able to catch onto the repetition. Listening in black and white, it’s just an indie duo with a fancy for electronic beats and a way of finding space for both piano and guitar to complete the effect. Aside from a little bit of experimental variation, this same kind of music is all that they’ve done since their start as an act in 1997. Maybe it’s time Mates of State rethink their musical strategy, because although they’re trying to keep up, their efforts are mostly outdated and underwhelming.

Mates of State – Mountaintops tracklist:

  1.  “Palomino”
  2. “Maracas”
  3. “Sway”
  4. “Unless I’m Led”
  5. “Total Serendipity”
  6. “Basement Money”
  7. “At Least I Have You”
  8. “Desire”
  9. “Changes”
  10. “Mistakes”