When Mates of State’s Kori Gardner plays live, she has these mini fits of unbridled enthusiasm where she literally runs in place, her blond ponytail bouncing up and down, her coy smile flashing at the boy across the stage — her husband, the drummer. This, of course, could be used to support the widespread belief that Mates of State are the most adorable band ever, but it’s also proof of her comfort behind an electric organ. She’s been going at it for almost a decade now, way before the recent crop of bands — Wolf Parade, et al — made organs cool. The duo hasn’t ditched their patented organ-drum arrangement or done anything quite as drastic, but the fuller sound of Re-Arrange Us is striking. What were once tinny and twitchy rhythms on their first three albums began to evolve into well thought out arrangements with pockets of piano and guitar on their fourth. Their new effort completes this transition to textured orchestration, anchored by a now fuzzed-out organ and hubby-wife harmonies that are actually sung, not yelped, like on their earlier stuff.
What’s odd and, really, quite nice, is that lyrically the album delivers exactly what people have always hoped for/expected from the Mates, something they more or less avoided in the past — songs about being in love. Their infatuation with each other becomes clear when the line “He’s treating me right” is interspersed throughout ‘Blue and Gold Print’, a track that fully embraces the band’s new, rich sound. Here Gardner and Jason Hammel create a dreamy, subdued ballad that ends — in perhaps the most endearing indie rock moment ever — with a reference to their kids growing old. It’s a far cry from the manic pogo-bouncing songs of their debut album.
Such changes couldn’t have come at better time in their career. If Gardner and Hammel had continued to ride out the success of their previous routine, they would be flirting dangerously with forever being labeled a gooey, too-sweet indie-pop band. But for the first time ever, Mates of State manage to sound playful and serious.