It seems like nothing slows down Mates of State -- not even a new baby. Of course, the baby-toting thing is old hat to the wife-and-husband duo of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel: They took their first-born daughter, Magnolia, on the road when she was 10 months old. Second daughter June, born in January, made it to last month's Sasquatch festival, where she got to see Death Cab for Cutie and the Decemberists. (Concerned CYS workers will be happy to know that baby had protective headphones.)
Gardner has documented her family life extensively on Band on the (Diaper) Run, her blog for parenting Web site Babble.com. Between tales of children at soundchecks, and discussions with her audience about public breastfeeding, she also discusses the band's unique musical endeavors, like its appearance on NPR's This American Life tour last year. On that tour, Mates of State played a few of their infectious songs between readings by Ira Glass, Dave Eggars, Sarah Vowell and others, getting a full-blown sound from just two instruments and a wall of irresistible harmonies.
The band's fifth album, Re-Arrange Us, coincided with its appearance at Sasquatch. "Now," the second track, could easily be the pop song of the summer, blaring out of car stereos and the earbuds of hipster pop fans everywhere. Over Hammel's tom-heavy drum beat, Gardner sets up the tension with a blurby synth-bass riff that releases into the couple singing the title like it's a nonsense syllable. It might look strange on paper, but it's the stuff of pop bliss; "Now" and other songs on Re-Arrange Us have a perfect balance of catchy keyboard melodies and chiming harmonies that will probably land it on a lot of Best Of lists in six months.
The album also marks the first time Mates of State has enlisted outside musicians. Guitars, cellos, trumpet and more back-up singers work with Gardner's keyboards and Hammel's drums to fill out the sound. They recorded at three different studios around the country, including Tiny Telephone in San Francisco, where Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla produced and played guitar, and his bandmate Ben Gibbard sang harmony. Spoon's Jim Eno, who recorded some of the band's previous releases, also produced and played on "You Are Free." As if the expanded sound weren't enough, the new album has reversible artwork, which allows it to appear in eight different configurations.
Mates of State with Headlights. 8 p.m. Wed., June 18. Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $15. All ages. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com
- X-ray spex: Mates of State