Easily one of the best-natured husband-and-wife pop duos in the business, Mates of State often seems to exist for the sole purpose of putting smiles on the faces of college-radio deejays, record collectors and other shoegazer types who might be in serious danger of overdosing on yet another agonizing Bright Eyes or Cat Power single. With only two band members and two instruments between them -- Kori Gardner plays a rickety toy-store keyboard, and Jason Hammel drives the drum kit -- you wouldn't think there'd be much wiggle room to create a joyful noise. But somehow, Mates of State has managed to corner the market on soaring pop harmonies and whoa-oh-oh sing-along anthems, especially after the well-deserved success of itsprevious full-length, Team Boo.
The pair's latest release, however -- the four-song EP All Day -- is decidedly more grown-up and introspective. In fact, on the album's third track, "Drop and Anchor," Gardner and Hammel have abandoned their signature song structure altogether with a piano-backed number that resonates sadness, and maybe even a touch of regret. The final selection, a cover of David Bowie's "Starman," is just as charming, but with inexplicably off-key vocals. Gardner was pregnant with Hammel's child during the writing of All Day, which almost certainly had something to do with the serious and somewhat reined-in feel of the record. But no matter which direction the band chooses to turn, Mates of State seems simply incapable of making music without pouring every last emotion into each note. It'll be curious to see how this album is interpreted live and in concert, which may prove to be a less intimate medium than these touching, delicate songs require.