Mates of State’s sixth album, Re-Arrange Us, which hit stores May 20th, is not what I would describe as a disappointment, but certainly not what I’d call a masterpiece either. Kori Gardner, one half of the married couple that forms the band, decided to give up her signature 70s Electrone organ for a piano and the change is definitely notable. Some of it isn’t the greatest sound, but there’s no shortage of pros regarding that decision either.
Some of the instrumentals seem absolutely flat; check out the tune “My Only Offer” and you’ll see. Some of the songs just lack the certain tanginess, and even that trademark sugariness, of their previous songs. They have subdued themselves in this album in a way they never have before and occasionally it sounds like they’re not sure about how they think it’s going, which just further disorients the big fans of their previous albums, especially the exquisite Bring it Back.
They are still solid and will be enjoyable to any sweet summer backdrop that you happen to find yourself in. Some of the lyrical content leaves a little bit to be desired (see: “You are Free”) but they do go well with the music they’re put to, and aren’t ever really terrible. If you stay away from “Jigsaw” you won’t be missing out on a whole lot though, I must say.
Don’t get me wrong, Re-Arrange Us is not bad, and there are some real gems on it. For instance, “Blue and Gold Print” will break through those summer backdrop songs that Mates of State have relegated them to. The lyrics are intricate and sensitive and the instrumentals behind it compliment the song almost perfectly. It’s definitely a song to savor.
“Help Help” will get you moving if you are a person with arms and legs, no matter how cool you’re trying to be. Title track “Re-Arrange Us” is, if just a tiny bit weak, an undoubtable anthem that you’ll be singing in your head all day. Jason Hammel, the band’s other half, still pulls me in with his melodic “everything-is-okay-now-I’m-here” voice. And, as always, they never once become pretentious or drown us with ignorable cuteness.
They’re still a refreshing mix in the increasingly carbon-copied indie music scene. They are still those originators of delicious sounds they proved themselves to be years ago when they were still learning. The best thing about this album is the newer, more grown-up direction, though a bit hesitant at points, is definitely a direction that they chose and went ahead with. The best thing about Mates of State as a whole is their ability to include you in the songs they’re singing without being overly blunt or inarticulate. And that presence is still felt all over this album.
Re-Arrange Us is worth the buy, they still put their all into performing and are awesome to see live, but just listen to it a little warily at first, you’ll accept it and love it before you even realize.