I’ve never judged an album by its cover, but I still can’t seem to figure out why Mates of State drummer/vocalist Jason Hammel has his face all pancaked with makeup. Oh well, I guess it will remain one of those questions we indie rock fans will be left to ponder. Back with their fourth album, the adorable wedded drums and organ duo of Hammel and Kori Gardner on organ have made a mixed bag of sorts this time around, but should be still be given credit for making pop music that is as cuddly as it is intense.
With zesty pop nuggets like “Fraud in the 80’s” and angelic prancing ditties such as “Like U Crazy” Hammel and Gardner (who I’m guessing are both in their early 30s) can be astonishing, as their vocal harmonics are kind of on par with a pair of children who are saddened, excited, and a little bit pissed all at once. A little bit like the Arcade Fire in many ways, but not as dramatic.
“What it Means” contains a mammoth portion of epic vigor. Just imagine Mates of State playing around a bunch of Roman columns. “Nature and the Wreck” is just perfect for when you want to go tip-toeing through the tulips while “So Many Ways” is quirky while retaining a vibe of deep sea trippiness.
Gardener and Hammel are on point as always, with their vocal synergy and mini choral vocals that pack a punch. Their songs are wistful and sincere with an almost heavy sense of yearning. Every song on the album has its good qualities and high points but where there are peaks there are valleys. The most seasoned of Mates of States fans will notice that the hooks are far less immediate on Bring it Back. And, let’s face it, folks, in pop music hooks are where it’s at. But if you can get over that, you’ll notice that the deliverance patterns in Hammel and Gardener’s voices have greater warmth and are more confirming and affirming in how they sing. As for the melodies, endearing as they are, they could still use a polish here and there. I still would like to know what the deal with the makeup is, though.