Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us

Three Hundred Four Words: Mates of State are the antithesis of Quasi. MoS are the sickenly perfect married couple of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel. Quasi are the divorced duo of Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss. In MoS, the female member plays organ while her male counterpart plays drums. In Quasi, it's flipped with Coomes on organ and Weiss on the kit. MoS sometimes replaces the organs with piano, while Quasi prefer to augment their sound with electric guitar. MoS songs are poppy, sappy, and hopeful. Quasi write depressing songs that reflect the breakdown of their marriage. Both bands make infectious indie rock featuring primarily organ, drums, and male/female harmonies.

It should come as no surprise that Mates of State get poppier and poppier, while Quasi gets darker and more depressing. Both bands have recently begun to tweak their sounds so as not to be pigeon-holed by their distinctive aesthetics. Neither transformation has been particularly successful.

Mates of State's Re-Arrange Us is the pop album I hoped they would never record. Their once-almost-screaming back-and-forth vocals have been restricted and polished, losing any resemblance to early Rainer Maria like they once had. The thick chords of Gardner's organ has been subdued and replaced with pianos and keyboards. Hammel's vicious percussive performances have softened as well. The thing that always made MoS interesting to me was their unique song structures and transitions, but that has given way to poppy sing-alongs more appropriate for top-40 radio than college radio.

I guess it should be expected that bands with more of a pop sound (and an extra mouth to feed) will go this direction. I'm not saying that the songs lack craftsmanship or that the production is lacking. It's just that when indie bands make their sound more accessible to the masses (read 13-year-old girls and soccer moms), it disappoints.

The one song that makes it worth $17.95: "My Only Offer"

Pitchfork Says: 5.1 (Ouch!)

It should be noted that I intended to review several albums (Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Joan of Arc, etc.), but our crappy record store did not have these records...ugh! Look for more reviews as I get some Insound orders going.

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