Mates of State – Mountaintops

Never let it be said that Mates of State let an album go by without writing at least one great song. At least one song that, in some new way, makes you want to find a member of your chosen gender and sing along to the harmony and make eye contact comma out. Never. Let. This. Happen. Tomorrow, for instance, practice your confidence by going to at least one stranger and saying “finish this sentence: Mates of State never let an album go by without writing at least one great song, period.” Then when they act confused, yell at them in your chosen non-English language (Serbo/Croatian is a good choice) and waving your arms angrily and point at everyone passerby with blonde hair. Don’t touch them, but don’t let them walk away without pushing you away either. For extra confidence, have a map with you that you can point at during your harangue, as if you just tracked down someone who gave you wrong directions yesterday. Decades later, when you’re drinking with your now-old “Mates of State” buddy, you can tell them that the song in question on “Mountaintops” is “Palomino”, with its soaring hooks and ten second burning intro. It’s a real show-stopper. Or album-starter, in this case. I tells ya, these guys would make for one heckfire of a Greatest Hits (or whathaveyou) mix).

But it’s slightly downhill from there. Which is to say it’s pretty good. The problem with every MoS album is that it makes the best soundtrack ever for cleaning your apartment with your significant other. This one’s a little less friendly to that sort of indifference in favour of ambivalence, but it’s still a happy couple being a happy couple over and over over the sounds of warm keyboards and soft drums. Convincing twist but the shout is just nice people cuddling.

Don’t worry, I like relationships just fine. Much more than I like family. My girlfriend is my current favourite living person, and I’m someone with many lovely friends. But fuck, as much as I enjoy our weekday nights getting drunk and competing at everything from shuffleboard to made up card games to the always entertaining “arguing then apologizing”, I’m not writing damned songs about the day-to-day. But okay, I get it that I did just write about my relationship, and relationships are very interesting. If you can tolerate a song called “At Least I Have You” then you’ll love that Stars-y humming bassline and admittedly great chorus hook (though those “la-la-la”s are inexcusable) then there’ll be two great songs on this album for you. For me, I have to focus on the musical quality. Only if its great can I go along with the lyrics that sound simpering, be they simpering or be they not simpering.

See? Ambivalence! “Total Serendipity” is another good excuse to feel both ways, with a ridiculous jaunty piano riff. It’s Motown-ish! But in a totally new, indie-wtf kind of way. Then “Sway” is all 80s and shit! Whee!

Okay, the whole sound is thicker, and heavier than their earlier albums. But unlike most albums where the sound becomes “denser,” it isn’t less substantial. Just more willing to experiment. So, points for not being totally appropriate for a dinner party, but these experiments are never altogether successful. The standard MoS filler sounds better than usual (except for “Mistakes” and “Change” – I don’t need your dangnabbed affirmations!), but it ends up a wash with the mostly-but-only-mostly successful new sounds.

I don’t know. Ever buy bandaids then wish you would cut yourself more often? Right now I’m considering “accidentally” breaking one of my less favourite glasses while washing dishes so that I can have bandaged fingers.

Speaking of girlfriend, I’m making us dinner tomorrow and I need to make jerk sauce and I’m OUT OF FUCKING ALLSPICE. I CAN NOT HANDLE THIS. Oh, here it is. This review has come across a bit negative, but 8/10 songs here are good songs. The rating of 7 is a testament to how “just….good” those eight good songs are. I have a deep and enduring respect for scotch bonnet peppers. They really don’t care for my eating them, and yet I find a way to not only consume them, but enjoy their fruity taste and atomic piquancy. It is next to flight on my personal list of ways we have conquered nature.

7/10

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Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us

Is there such a thing as domestic stadium rock? This is it. Huge hooks looming over a slideshow of your recent trip to the East Indies.

See, he’s a fine-looking young man. Nice use of the ultra-cliched half dark face / half light face motif for the both of yas though! You make me sick!

Okay, let me deal with the album first: it’s pretty well totally different sounding. I don’t think they actually signed to a major label, but it has that “we just signed to a major label!” feel, like Regina Spektor on Begin To Hope. To wit, chick uses a piano instead of keyboards, there are eight million vocal overdubs all over the place, and there are goshdarned symphonies all over the songs. And is that a guitar I hear in “Jigsaw”? Blasphemy! But the good kind of blasphemy, like the time Muhammad saved all those Christians from their poisonous belief that Christ is the son of god.

Look, I have no idea. I’m weak and sad. Since this is a Mates of State album not titled “Bring It Back”, only the first half of the album is particularly good. “Get Better” is slow-building and affirming, “Now” is insistent and driven, “My Only Offer” is unconventional (hookwise) and conciliatory, and “The Re-Arranger” uses the orchestra to build towards a huge harmonious chorus in probably the best song they’ve written. They’re all catchy, and lovely, and filled with handclaps and things and appropriately hit piano and vocal notes.

Then “Jigsaw” starts with “you write the good songs, baby” and it’s all downhill. And by “downhill” I mostly mean that it’s a bunch of worse versions of the first four tracks that are still rather good, except for maybe “Help! Help!” Because that’s a stupid title for a song. Get it if you’re happy, or something.

7/10 

Mates of State – Bring it Back

Say, have you ever been listening to every Mates of State album recorded chronologically, and noticed they were all the same? No, of course you haven’t, you’re not crazy. Well, I have, and they’re pretty similar! This one is a little glossier on the ol’ productiometron, and there are not one but TWO songs with a piano instead of a keyboard, wow.

But really, it’s not like they’re anything other than good. Aside from the forgettable tracks thrown in on the second half of the album, of course! Actually, in this case one’s genuinely bad: the child-dedicated “The Nature and the Wreck” complete with baby noises. Plus “Running Out” is forgettable, and they forgot how to turn “So Many Ways”‘ great keyboard tone into a real song. But the rest! Oh, yes yes. Try not to like “Think Long”‘s gradual buildup, or the warm distorted keyboard sounds of “Fraud in the 80s” or the surprisingly jazzy, singer-songwritery “What It Means,” I implore you, I beseech you, I dare you! Oh, it was truth? Oh, well in that case…I’m avoiding my girlfriend because I’m terrified of expectations!

But really, nearly every song here has something to like They even turn titles like “Like U Crazy” and “Beautiful Dreamer” into good songs. I mean, what the shit, am I right? I am right. But really, kids, what’s with dude’s face on the cover of this plastic case? First of all, he kinda looks like a lesbian (think Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi), second of all his eyes are some buggy eyes. Plus, it’s as if they lacquered his skin or something. I mean, how did people okay this promotional picture? It’s grotesque. He’d be better off looking like a Dickensian ragamuffin in full chimbley sweep attire than he does here.

I’m not finished yet! I don’t like his facial expression! I don’t like this picture! Not one bit! No no no! Not at all!

8/10

Mates of State – Team Boo

Well, well, well, looks like the States of Mate are back, and this time they brought actual songs! Is what I bet they were saying back in ought two when this album came out. And sure enough, it’s the same idea (the girl sets her keyboard on ‘piano’ sometimes this time though! Or maybe uses an actual piano!) in terms of production and band members, but the songs are much more songish. All of a sudden, instead of wacky inexplicable changes in tempo and Unicorns-y non-repeating sections, they’re verse-chorusing it up – which appeals to my shamefully narrow definition of what music should sound like! We dig-a repetition. And the songs continue to be about things like loving your partner because at least you know they tried. Hey, it beats the hell out of most lyrical sentiments, and it’s done by pretty people, so it must be good, right? Right.

Except, of course, for the opener “Ha Ha,” my least favourite song here. First it sounds like Styx for about five seconds, then it lurches back and forth between equally unlikeable silly sections. Oh, it doesn’t tickle me in any positive way, it doesn’t.

But after that – hooray, it’s a streak of great, catchy songs that you can send to that stupid but hot girl who likes indie music! “Whiner’s Bio”? I’d write that! “Fluke”? Not much of one, on this section of the album! “Open Book”? I don’t know how to read a closed one! with writing more cohesive songs comes recognizing when a part is great, like the bouncy section of the last song or the chorus of the first, and not being afraid to serve it again.

Of course, this is a Mates of State album, and like the rest, there’s a sudden drop-off after about the midway point. After those three great songs there’s a couple mediocre ones, then the wordplayin’, underrated “Gotta Get A Problem” and the equally great, piano-led, so-sweet-but-that’s-okay, downtempo, “Parachutes (Funeral Song) and that’s it. There’s four songs that you’ll barely remember, except maybe like “this is the one with no beginning” or “this is the slow one.” Gee. Not that they’re bad, but if there were no great songs on the album it’d make one pointless EP. But I wouldn’t be reviewing them if I didn’t like them, right? See Metric reviews for details.
7 / 10

Mates of State – Our Constant Concern

More of the same, but a little more song-y. Opener “Hoarding it for Home” is the most coherent and catchy thing they’ve done yet and the best song on here, and otherwise it’s more mid-tempo loving couple pop music. It’s also a bit more front-loaded, and it’s still a very short album, so what can you hey. On songs it’s a bit weaker, but I’m a sucker for a good chorus and repetitive sections to hang my brain on.

7/10

Mates of State – Our Solo Project

MoS(t) definitely, this a happy couple band that plays keyboard-led, upbeat, non-linear couple music. Really though, the girl plays all sorts of keyboards all over everything and sings all the time, and the guy drums all under everything (in a laid-back, indie-rock sort of way with lots of switcherups) and also sings all the time. So they’re pretty much always both singing. It’s not the best thing to listen to if you’re heart-broken or something, because they sure sound loving.

But is it any good? Well, it’s very pleasing but not particularly memorable, by which I mean that I’ll probably never listen to it as a whole album or even as a bunch of songs again. By “non-linear” I meant that it’s filled with constant inexplicable tempo and key changes all over the place, which makes it hard to get attached to any song and consigns them to being more like background music.

But that’s by far the worst part of the album. The keyboard tones are pleasing, they’re great singers both individually and together, in harmony or not, and the lyrics are pleasantly listenable without being trite or annoying. And the unconventional instrumentation is a nice change, as is listening to people who don’t sound angst fucking ridden for a change. Aside from existentially life really isn’t that bad. And why are happy couples never, even the main characters of anything? I think it’s because most people don’t want to see happy people other than ourselves – we are programmed to measure happiness by comparison to our neighbours. In any case, there’s also the Cheers theme song here, and a really annoying thirty-second last song, and the only song that really stands out is the especially upbeat “Everyone Needs An Editor,” but you’ll like (and not love) them all!

7/10