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Review: Mates of State – Mountaintops

By Riley Ubben

With the recent split of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, things are looking bleak for boy-girl bands all over. I mean, let’s be honest here–the lifestyle of a musician has to be tough on even the most rock-solid relationships. They spend their days crammed in a tour bus or in a recording studio with their significant others, and unlike the majority of their indie rock peers, they can’t even vent about their romantic woes via song.

While it’s been over a decade since My Solo Project first introduced the infectious, lovey-dovey pop of the Mates of State, Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner haven’t been married for half the time that Gordon and Moore were. If indie rock’s first couple couldn’t make it work, are the Mates doomed to the same fate?

The duo’s latest album, Mountaintops, is an honest look into the state of the Mates, with both the triumphs and struggles of their relationship included. Their future still looks pretty damn good, however, as it becomes clear that Hammel and Gardner have grown not only as spouses but also as songwriters.

With its solid synth line and nonsensical lyrics that no audience will be able to resist singing along to, “Maracas” is the clear standout of the record. Underneath the undeniable catchiness, however, there is real substance. A sense of regret contradicts the upbeat energy of the song as Gardner lists off things she wishes she would have noticed, and in one of the song’s most memorable hooks she comes to the conclusion that, “No one can take it all back.”

Elsewhere on the album, more problems are tackled in the most cathartic and fun way possible. “Basement Money” looks at the often-debated question of selling out from the perspective of two musicians who have a family to support, and “At Least I Have You” copes with the fact that the lifestyle the two have chosen will inevitably isolate them from old friends.

Then there’s the closer, “Mistakes,” which has plenty of conflicted emotions if you’re looking for them. Repeated talk of taking sides and making mistakes fills each verse, and the chorus even finds the two admitting that their codependency isn’t exactly normal.

But the song doesn’t come across as disheartening. More than anything, it seems as though the Mates have reached a point in their relationship and their career in which they are willing to be completely honest with each other and with their audience. “It’s not normal if I refuse to be by myself” is not a line you might expect from Hammel and Gardner, but the two don’t deliver it in a way that ever makes you think they want to change. The Mates of State will never be quite normal, and Mountaintops is them not only coming to terms with that fact, but also celebrating it.

Mates of State “Maracas” by Barsuk Records