Mates of State: Our Constant Concern

Our Constant Concern

"Everyone settle down!" shout Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel. How's that for indie rock's latest rallying cry? Stay home, shack up, cuddle together, fall apart. You have nothing to lose but your heart and your place on the guest list. An old fantasy, of course, but revived by a generation determined to repeat the mistakes of history with gusto. Today's post-emo couples are more X than Yo La Tengo, wriggling and writhing from marital to martial before resigning to sing in their chains like the sea.

Quasi comparisons are inevitable when a couple forms a two-piece featuring keyboard and drums. But U-Kansas alums-turned-San Fran sweethearts Gardner and Hammel are not only way more chipper than Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss, they're also way more still married. But they pay for their happier reality with more imagined tumult in their music. The duo's second full-length finds them bantering back and forth in their own private language, emitting lyrics like "I form words that fit next to yours 'cause I know." Know what? How am I supposed to pick sides here?

But Mates of State's bickering is not embittering, and the circuslike melodies Gardner batters from her Yamaha are impossibly cheery but never ironic. You get the sense that Gardner and Hammel are not so much incapable of irony or even averse to irony: The bruised emotional staple just doesn't jibe with how they experience their highs and lows. And so they can name one quarrel "A Duel Will Settle This," even though there is no real settling hereabouts. "I know you're not playing around, but I know you will," begins one song, whose title recognizes the lonely dangers that await those not warmly ensconced in couplehood--"Halves and Have-Nots." As "never stay alone" becomes the pair's mantra on that song, suggesting that comfort matters more than romance, they seem to have discovered that there's no such thing as a happy ending. Which is not the same thing as saying there's no such thing as happiness.

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