Proof that "happily married" doesn't have to mean "sappily married," the Mates of State comprise a San Francisco (by way of Lawrence, Kan.) couple who make honest, messy music about the state of matrimony, warts and all. Listening to their noisy sophomore record, Our Constant Concern, is like eavesdropping on a couple whose discussion gradually turns from dinner plans to half-forgotten grudges. Kori Gardner and Jason Hammell (who tied the knot just before recording Concern) may gaze at each other lovingly onstage, but they also step on each others' lines and shout as if trying to drown each other out.
Like another famous indie-rock couple act, Quasi, the Mates favor a thick sound (fortified with organ overdubs and odd samples) that disguises just how few of them there are. Though they lack Quasi's lyrical pessimism, the very texture of their music -- the intersecting stream-of-consciousness lyrics and lurching carny melodies -- makes for a more immediate madness. Yet it's also proof of their love; they wouldn't get so tied up in knots if they didn't really care. Whereas Elliott Smith and countless other bedroom songwriters toil away penning odes to long-departed girlfriends, Gardner and Hammell master the far more touching, difficult and ambiguous task of writing pop songs about love in the present tense.