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Mates of State

Our critics' picks in new releases


More Georgia and Ira than John and Yoko, the newlyweds known as Mates of State crank out ebullient pop songs for indie-rock hearts, organ-driven numbers so utterly drenched in love they couldn't possibly be faking it. Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel played in the Lawrence, Kan., band Vosotros before going duo and emigrating to San Francisco in 1998. In the ensuing few years, they've released singles and EPs. And, oh, they got married.

On this, their first full-length, Gardner's well-worn Yamaha organ and Hammel's strangely Bonham-esque drumming make a big ol' ruckus, while their voices--his emo-style shout and her pleasantly shrill soprano--offer a breathtaking counterpoint to one another.

"Proofs" and "La'Hov" have hooks that would make Duran Duran swoon. "What I Could Stand For" showcases wild tempo changes, a heavy-as-shit synth bassline and beautiful minor-chord vocal harmonies. "Nice Things That Look Good" and "I Have Space" forgo pep to show that Hammel and Gardner know their way around a ballad.

The love's the thing, though. Both on record and on stage, Mates of State's magic lies in the palpable connection between Gardner and Hammel. Tension and release are, after all, akin to oxygen both in love and in pop bands. The duo's singing cadence--different words in different rhythms sung concurrently--is the musical equivalent of a spirited marital argument. Their lyrics are written in code, angst and bliss jockeying for position within the space of one stanza.

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