Mates of State

Polyvinyl

Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel have become college-radio darlings as Mates of State not simply because their debut long-player, 2000’s My Solo Project, is a guitarless racket with uncommon heart and verve. No, the San Francisco-by-way-

of-Lawrence, Kan., lovers also got married last year, soon after they quit their day jobs as, respectively, elementary school teacher and cancer researcher. What nice folks! Their latest, Our Constant Concern, is a little tough to root for, though. The crowd-pleasing pieces of the puzzle are all in place, including Gardner’s playful organ riffs, Hammel’s potent son-of-math-rock drumming, and the newlyweds’ buoyant harmonizing (which allows them to gaze intently at each other onstage). But this time around, the overall picture seems both too complex and too precious. “Uber Legitimate” best displays the problem: The song pops out of the speakers with typical cheeriness, but Gardner and Hammel soon force themselves to concentrate on multiple time changes, coming off like a pair of figure-skaters grinning tensely through a combination that only Dick Button could explain. Elsewhere, similar moves leave the potential for raw power untapped, especially on “Quit Doin’ It,” a cryptic tune that might be about an ailing matriarch. The song’s opening blast recalls the better crescendos on My Solo Project, but it quickly left-turns into a minor-key groove that’s just short of grating. Mates of State should keep in mind that they didn’t build their reputation on complexity: On My Solo Project, Gardner and Hammel simply sounded like no one else. Now they sound like people trying too hard. —Joe Warminsky

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