CD review: Mates of State, Mountaintops

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After 14 years together, husband-and-wife twosome

— Kori Gardner (vocals, keys, synths, guitar) and Jason Hammel (vocals, drums, percussion, synths) — has developed a recognizable sonic aesthetic: energetic, buoyant indie rock that has the couple exchanging verses layered almost on top of each another amid electric organs and synthesizers. Like zealously upbeat duo Matt & Kim, Mates of State careen with enthusiasm.

Mountaintops has them trekking familiar terrain with mixed results. Opener "Palomino" starts encouragingly enough with simple electronic drumbeats and high organ notes. Then Hammel and Gardner begin their signature game of chasing each others' vocals from verse to verse. The track is a testament to the duo's specific style of indie rock, but the formula starts to have a wearying effect the deeper you dig into the album.

"Unless I'm Led" and "Total Serendipity" hearken back to 2006's sublime Bring It Back, both tracks tinkering with the formula that brought the band success. "Unless I'm Led" employs a slower tempo, the contemplative burn glowing white hot but never quite hitting a climax. "Total Serendipity," on the other hand, is pure climax: a blazingly fast-paced number built around jaunty piano that compels even the most dead at heart to dance.

Overall, the San Francisco-based twosome's seventh full-length comes off as simply average. Mates of State reveal they can still build the soundtrack of youth, but now they need to figure out if they're producing music for a merely adequate Hollywood film, or a clever indie flick. (Out September 13 via Barsuk Records)

3 Stars

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