Best Mates

For more information about Mates of State, see their web site at

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A while back someone was telling me about a great band he'd just heard. Apparently they were a west coast indie group composed of a boyfriend and girlfriend; one played the organ, the other drums. "Oh, you're talking about Quasi," I said, proceeding to inform the person that the band's Janet Weiss and Sam Coomes have not been romantically involved for some time. Of course, I had jumped the gun in usual know-it-all fashion - instead of Quasi, the band he was going on about was the San Francisco-based duo Mates of State.

The Mates, comprised of Kori Gardner on organ and Jason Hammel on drums, have quickly become the darlings of the Bay Area indie scene. After putting out a few 7" singles, the band released their full-length debut, My Solo Project, earlier this year on local label Omnibus. The record reaped heavy critical praise (one called it "near perfect"), by all accounts has sold quite well by indie standards and is now beginning to show up on the inevitable best-record-of-the-year lists.

While Mates of State may resemble Quasi in certain superficial ways, the comparison fizzles when it comes to their music. Gardner and Hammel's tight compositions are never droning and somber; their voices, which alternately harmonize and compete with each other, are miles away from Coomes' sing-song whine.

The Mates' song-writing is resolutely upbeat; with a few exceptions, My Solo Project contains one hum-worthy, poppy song after another. Gardner's inventive organ playing, which serves as the bedrock of the band's sound, is replete with ebullient, catchy melodies. While the organ has definite retro qualities, it never sounds like the gimmicky, cloying Farfisas employed by many bands in recent years.

Gardner's Yamaha, combined with Hammel's confident, punk-influenced drumming, creates a perfect backdrop for the duo's beautiful vocals. Their voices work well in tandem or apart - Gardner's crystal-clear delivery easily stands on its own and is further enhanced by Hammel's nasally, Doug Martsch-ian crooning.

The Mates' songs tend toward the short side, but this is hardly a criticism - they wisely avoid long intros and excessive musical meandering. Many tunes are punctuated by dramatic pauses and leisurely time-signature changes, both of which add to the music's charming quirkiness.

While some may try to fit the band into a particular sub-genre, it's really a useless exercise (calling something "post-emo-mathcore" can't mean much). Gardner and Hammel simply make great rock music - this even the most nit-picky of indie aesthetes wouldn't challenge.

Though the Mates are now known all over the country, having toured throughout the past year, their most ardent fans remain in the Bay Area. As of late, Berkeley-area fans have been especially strong in their support of the band. Earlier this month the Mates played a well-attended co-op show, followed a week later by an on-campus performance organized by the student group Nerd Noise.

The chemistry exhibited between Gardner and Hammel on their record in also in abundance during live performances. The two seem to communicate constantly, sometimes chiding one another for small mistakes which no one in the crowd could have noticed. As you'd expect, after seeing the couple perform live, listening to My Solo Project becomes even more enjoyable.

After releasing the album, the Mates have continued to work feverishly. They've recorded a new song for an upcoming Omnibus Records sampler while simultaneously touring the West coast. Last week they played a sold-out show at The Bottom of the Hill with Kansas rockers The Anniversary. If you haven't made it out to one of their recent shows, don't worry - the tireless Mates are playing three more Bay Area dates this month alone.


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