Mates of State – Our Constant Concern

Mates of State
Our Constant Concern

Mates of State’s first album took indie rock fans by surprised. How could two people who don’t even use guitars create such good music? Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel don’t use a lot of trickery. They play keyboards and drums, respectively, and both sing – or rather, they belt out their lyrics in a kind of exuberant and at times cacophonic harmony that’s endearing as well as emphatic. And somehow, with just those components, you get some of the catchiest, most endearingly charming poppy rock in recent memory.
On My Solo Project, Gardner’s keyboards at times resembled guitars, and the fact that the songs weren’t over-produced – allowing their voices to play off each other – made the album a fantastic and exciting listen. With Our Constant Concern, the band inevitably has matured, and some of the playfulness from My Solo Project is lacking. But making up for it, the band functions as an even tighter unit, still creating urgent songs but now putting more emphasis on the keyboards and harmonies.
“Hoarding it for Home” has much of the band’s penchant for emphatic, almost bellowed vocals leading the songs over light, twinkling keyboards and light drumming. But keyboards really take the lead – sounding more like organs – on “10 Years Later,” and both sing together this time. Perhaps the band’s best song yet, “Uber Legitimate” adds in some trumpets for the most infectious chorus and even gets mellow at times. Hammel and Gardner trade vocals again, not singing together so much as to each other, on “I Know, and I Said Forget It,” a more mid-tempo song with more keyboard tricks than you might expect from the band.
Again, the couple belt out their lyrics on “Quit Doin’ It,” and that’s when they’re at their most endearing. Up-beat and powered by Hammel’s power drumming, the song is about as intense as the duo gets. Is there something autobiographical about the knob-fiddling “A Duel Will Settle This,” as both musicians sing, “Bury your words, they’re better unsaid.” You can dance to the organ-filled “Clean Out,” and the high-speed “Halves and Have-nots” is led by Hammel’s powerful, tempo-changing percussion. “Let us sing out,” the duo sing on the closer, “As Night as Now,” which kind of mixes everything they do well but still keeping it kind of bare-bones and simple.
Since My Solo Project, Gardner and Hammel have gotten married, and while the playful, love-themed songs from that first album are gone here, the band seems to be contemplating their life and their partnership on Our Constant Concern. The vocals are deeper, the harmonies fuller, and the keyboards more precise. And while it was the rough, playful nature of their debut that made it so good, the band shows they’re losing nothing as they continue to hone their craft. This is another irresistible album.