Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mates of State

  • Team Boo [Polyvinyl, 2003] B+
  • Re-Arrange Us [Barsuk, 2008] A-
  • Crushes: The Covers Mixtape [, 2010] **
  • Mountaintops [Barsuk, 2011] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Team Boo [Polyvinyl, 2003]
Music box. Hurdy-gurdy. Pinball gallery. Turning point of silent movie. Between-innings entertainment at a minor-league ballpark. E Street pseudoclassical. Even, almost, ? and the Mysterians. That's how pop history is conceived by Kory Gardner. Words aren't quite irrelevant--cf. "This is the whiner's bio," or "Set the rocks on fire." But they are ancillary. B+

Re-Arrange Us [Barsuk, 2008]
Alternia knows two things about this duo: raw biography and raw sound. Married, two kids, publicly affectionate on stage; so tuneful they embarrass coolsters who think babies are icky, but also, due to how hard Kory Gardner pumps her organ and John Hammel meets his match, energetic, rendering the tunes forgivable. And right, sometimes their hooks are sugary enough to give me a tummyache too. But for Gardner to devote herself to piano as Hammel quiets down doesn't justify the consensus diagnosis of, eeuw, domesticity. Musical symptoms just aren't specific enough. Instead one must refer to those supposedly unmusical carriers of specificity, the words. Seldom anything special in the past, now they add up to a painful, unresolved song sequence about a couple who buy a biographically verifiable dream house and then hit the rocks as definitely the husband and possibly the neglected wife seek sexual solace elsewhere. So no, Pitchfork guy, you can't call "Blue and Gold Print" a lullaby just because it's slow and invokes the kiddies. No, Pop Matters guy, you can't praise the "The Re-Arranger"'s arrangement without noting that one thing getting rearranged is lives. Pop hooks deployed to keep up a good front are too complicated for tummyaches. Not heartaches, though. A-

Crushes: The Covers Mixtape [, 2010]
The Mars Volta on pinkeye, Vashti Bunyan on pink elephants, and Fleetwood Mac on second-hand news are all froth to them ("Long Way Home," "Laura"). **

Mountaintops [Barsuk, 2011]
Kory Gardner and Jason Hammel are strong singers with a weakness for melody who play keyboards and drums, such indie lifers that they went and had two kids on the theory they could just tour with them--check Gardner's Band on the Diaper Run blog. Never scrawny like punk (they rolled new wave) or twee like synth-pop (organ is Gardner's meat), they developed surprising muscle tone for a duo without breaking on through. But their seventh album opens with a simulated big-pop anthem and maintains that size and momentum without compromising their ability to play the new songs live. The discord that surfaces in the last few lyrics may indicate bumps in their marital road. But it definitely indicates how hard it is to write 10 near-corny pop songs without a hint of unhappy love. And the wholeness of the music leaves us feeling they're more than OK. A-

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