By Phil Leckman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday Feb. 5, 2002
Our Constant Concern
Like a lot of kids, I loved to play around on the piano, making up songs, banging on the keys and yelling out loud. Eventually my parents noticed this exuberance and sent me to piano lessons. Within a year, however, my enthusiasm for the piano was almost gone, buried under drilling, scales and rehearsals. Sure, I could play a lot better, but the spark was gone.
San Francisco indie-rock duo Mates of State might be able to sympathize with my plight. My Solo Project, the band's first album, was one of the surprise indie-rock successes of 2000, an energetic, exciting album brimming with child-like joy that more than made up for an occasional lack of technical polish. Keyboardist Kori Gardner and drummer Jason Hammel didn't always sing in perfect harmony, but the results, if somewhat rough-hewn, were inspired and fun.
Recorded in an L.A. studio with Dave Trumfio, a well-known indie-rock producer, Our Constant Concern is cleaner, smoother and more polished than its predecessor. The keyboards sound richer and fuller, the vocals more vivid, the harmonies far smoother. But the end result is somehow much less satisfying. The Mates may sound more professional, but they also seem to be having a lot less fun. While a few tracks, like opener, "Hoarding it for Home," still rock, the album as a whole is slower and more subdued. The band sounds almost deflated, as if the quirky joy that distinguished its debut has been ironed right out.
Growth is good for bands, and so, in many cases, is maturity. But it's important - essential - not to lose that spark. Here's hoping the Mates of State can find theirs again.