by Miranda Hale
Team Boo (Polyvinyl), the Mates of State's third full-length release, is completely delightful. There is really no other word that better describes what the husband and wife team of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel do with their melodic voices, swirling organs, keyboards and drums. Their dueling vocals, earnestness, intellect and passion form the backbone of their music, and on Team Boo, their gorgeous collaboration is taken to new levels of fun, intelligence and versatility.
The exuberant and deliberately structured "Ha Ha" starts the album. It's a paradox, a powerhouse of a quiet song about love, pain, power and hope. The dueling vocals separate, then come back together, merging and converging and diverging repeatedly with luscious results. The keyboards swirl like the soundtrack of a creepily beautiful 1950s science fiction film, and the various shifts in rhythm leave the listener with a feeling of enveloping warmth. "Fluke" is a danceable number, with beats out of a '80s video game infused with '90s sincerity and seriousness. The vocals are call-and-response, and Gardner and Hammel's voices blend together effortlessly to create a thoughtful and enchantingly fragile atmosphere. On "Parachutes (Funeral Song)," the chorus of "at least I know you tried" is repeated over hauntingly beautiful and evocatively tinkling piano notes, with the effect of barely controlled yet feverish desperation. These songs are simultaneously joyous and devastating, but always emotive and hopeful.
Gardner and Hammel have adopted the motto "play anywhere, anytime," an ethos that has garnered them a large audience and has lead to comparisons to other, better known, boy-girl duos such as Quasi and the White Stripes. Yet, for all their call-and-response and drums + organ sound, the Mates of State are distinct. They are honest and fierce, yet always maintain evocative sweetness and well-thought-out joy in their music and live shows. In some ways, the music they make is out of time, seemingly existing neither in the present nor in the past. They are a rare group that -- refreshingly enough -- manages to successfully incorporate their influences without wearing them on their sleeves.
The Mates of State make consistently beautiful and evocative music. Their two voices fill up Team Boo with the passion and strength of an entire choir. They have created a diverse yet comfortingly similar sound, and it is a sound that gets better and stronger on each album.
Publication date: 09/18/03