Monday, July 12, 2010

Review: Mates of State, Crushes

Crushes (The Covers Mixtape)
B (or One Solid-Gold Pink Elephant and One Grey Failed Attempt at Angst)

A quick background on Mates of State, for those WGTB readers who have been living in a hole beneath the scope of all popular music for the last ten years and have chosen this very moment to surface: Mates of State have, since 1997, otherwise been known as Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel. They have also otherwise been known as husband and wife for that same amount of time. Does that not make you want to throw up? Oh, they've just been making music together for over thirteen years, and they're actually quite good at it, and they're still together. Barf. (Just look at the album cover!)

Mates of State's most recent release is an album called Crushes, a mixtape of sorts made up only of cover songs––a bold move, admittedly, for anyone in the music industry, but it's safe to say Gardner and Hammel have earned their keep and are more than capable of pulling it off. Interesting that they would call the album "Crushes"––I, too, have been head-over-heels for songs time after time, and feel like it is the only sentiment with which you can safely pull off a cover. The right balance of loving the original and boosting it with your own flavor in has to be in effect––and, even more importantly, there has to be a shred of empathy in your cover, a little note to the original, that says "this song was yours before, but now that I've done it, it's a little bit mine, too, because somehow, we speak the same language." These three influences make or break the covers––where did Mates of State succeed, and where didn't they? A handy guide for the eager yet lazy listener:

Good: Belle and Sebastian cover - "Sleep the Clock Around"
It's a perfect B&S song choice by Mates of State––light-hearted and fun, but with enough groove in the original to make it a worthwhile romp.
At first listen, all I could say was "how dare they." At second listen, I realized it was rather awful. The original song (linked above) is pure, utter, stripped down, open-ribcage angst. Bubbly synths and poppily overlaced vocals do not and will never suit it. What this cover is missing is the shred of empathy––Mates of State are so far from being down the rabbit hole Daniel Johnston is down, so far from that world of crazy, that they, America's Couple, should not even have considered this cover. It's the one glaring error on the album, and for shame.
Very Good: Vashti Bunyan cover - "17 Pink Sugar Elephants"
Nailed it. This track manages to breathe bubbly new life into what Vasthi Bunyan's restraint made great––her original is a bit creepier, a bit more crunch, while the cover is all sugar. What's not to love? It's two short minutes of pure, unbridled glee.
Decent: Death Cab for Cutie cover - Technicolor Girls"
As with the Daniel Johnston, Mates of State can't quite pull of DCfC's angst, but give it a good go and pull off an enjoyable track.
Really? Really! Cool!: Girls cover - "Laura"
Now we can finally understand what on earth Girls' lyrics are, when the scuzz and haze are removed. The original is still better, but it's a nice collision of worlds ("Wait, you've met?").

-- Fiona Hanly


Anonymous said...

Never heard of them. Not at all.

95% of the playlist is so unknown that they exist for college radio. I'd be surprised if this duo sold 50,000 copies of anything.

Anonymous said...

Really? That's all you have to say about an album review, that you've never heard of the band?
Cool comment.

igs said...

yeah. why would a band ever make an album that college kids would like? since when do college kids know anything about contemporary music.

clearly a huge miscalculation on the part of the band

Anonymous said...

So you guys hear about that Justin Bieber kid? I hear he's climbing the charts. Why no Bieber Fever, Mates of State?