Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-11-22


Mates of State: 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-

Mates of State: 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+

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