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Mates of State - Team Boo

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Artist: Mates of State

Album: Team Boo

Label: Polyvinyl

Review date: Sep. 25, 2003

Florid piano, perky boy/girl lyrics, organ and drums, a pulsing disco-groove, and bleating-organ rawk. "Ha Ha", the first track from Mates of States' Team Boo is a singularly strange and amazing thing. It is at once a tour de force and three or four different songs combined. Now imagine this happening eleven more times over a forty-minute period.

The Mates of State are good at what they do. Jason Hammel is a skilled drummer, and his wife Kori Gardner makes her vintage Yamaha organ sound like any number of imaginative things over the course of the duo's third album, Team Boo. They sing as they rock out, their insistent voices blending in sweet harmonies. It's hard not to be charmed by their story and their indomitably cheery manner, their obvious pop sensibilities and their creatively limited means of realizing them. But an album's worth of songs that are so consistently schizophrenic feels like much more than it is; if one song feels like four, and four songs feel like a generous album's worth, then 12 is very likely pushing it.

Admirably, beyond the individual highlights of each song, some of which are truly excellent and would be even more so out of this context, the Mates break up the stream of unrelenting joy every now and then. The touchingly morose "Parachutes (Funeral Song)", for instance, is a welcome departure, even trading in the whine of the organ for a simple and dignified piano (there are handclaps later, but they're tasteful handclaps). Other touches toward the end, like the Mariachi horns in the subdued "An Experiment" or the driving chorus ("This couldn't be / More ghetto!") of "I Got This Feelin'" help keep Team Boo from running together. Coming so late on the album, they may be too late to rejuvenate the experience entirely, but they do add to record’s appeal as a whole.

When they're on, Mates of State recall the better moments of fellow smilers Quasi or The Anniversary, and the rest of the time their friendly pop buzz is more harmless than irritating. It's safe to say that Hammel and Gardner accomplish all that can be accomplished with an organ and drums, and their methodology of changing each song a few times to compensate for the limits of their resources is appreciated. But the sum effect of Team Boo is overwhelming, and it's a great deal easier to revel in the best parts when hearing it in smaller doses.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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