Happy, Happy, Sad
Mates of State, hurrah!; The Flaming Lips, gimme-five!; Pink Mountaintops, gimme-some-Prozac
Mates of State
Pure childish exuberance just seems to come naturally to the San Francisco-based husband and wife team Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel who make up the band, along with various contributors on their recordings. Glazed with reverb and thumping like it means it, Mates of States’ latest disc, Bring It Back , hits you right in the sweet spot again with a sickeningly danceable and joyous set of tracks that are destined to end up on the playlist on plenty of summer roadtrip mixes, inspiring much hand-in-the-wind grooving and gum-smacking. Don’t get me wrong, though; it’s not too perky. There’s a yin and yang here—a sheath of knowing mystery to balance out the utter amiability.
Plus, the two singers’ deadpan voices and stark, observant lyrics add substance to the bubbly tracks. Gardner and Hammel hit a serious stride in the sobering ballad “What it Means,” and later with the piano-driven “Nature of the Wreck.” And they’re beautiful. But the tracks that keep you hitting repeat are the chanting, glowing numbers like “Think Long” or “Punchlines.” Albums like this one are the reason some of us have withheld from purchasing iPods; the urge to dance like a maniac down the street and chant along would just be too irresistible.
The Flaming Lips
But hey, you can handle it. Same truths, different package. This time, they come shrink-wrapped in stripped-down guitar, drum and bass arrangements, sugarcoated in disco-computer magic, stamped and sent packing on the wings of earnest fancy. The mailing label reads “We win!,” and it’s addressed to you and me. It’s a cosmic chain-letter you want to copy and send to everyone you know. But, simultaneously, it’s not Yoshimi or The Soft Bulletin or [insert Lips’ discography here]. It’s new.
It’s a new world we’re living in, though-darker, less cohesive, and the album follows suite. Whereas in 2002, we were ready for a make-it-make-sense rally cry, now we’re ready for a solution. Wayne Coyne has a few suggestions, the first being that it’s time to stop giving away our power, to light up our magic wands and start pointing them in the direction of righteousness: “I got a plan, and it’s here in my hand, but it’s all made of rights/ We’re the enforcers, the sorcerer’s orphans, and we know why we fight,” he sings in “The W.A.N.D.” A couple tracks are overly-sappy, but too many nun puppets lying around will do that to you.
Musically speaking, At War operates within a different sphere than its predecessors but, like an everlasting gobstopper, the layers taste familiar—a core sample of yester-yesteryear’s rock-outs and yesteryear’s transcendental smoothies. It’s time to bore deeper.
The Pink Mountaintops present a lo-fi sound coated in distortion, occasionally extending to the vocals, and gloomy throughout. The rhythms remain simple and straight ahead, articulating the funeral march aspect of the record. At its best, the album strips away the majority of the instrumentation, leaving McBeam’s vocal to carry the character of the sound, highlighted and tempered with scattered synth tones and beeps.
Axis of Evol is a record that takes time to digest. The songs unfold with patience and the transitions are subtle, leaving a first listener thinking not much interesting exists. In fact, there is quite a bit of information hidden within the quickly-pegged shadowy sound of the Pink Mountaintops. To that end, the stripped-down songs on the record remain at the top of the list; perhaps the success with these songs negated the need to fill out the track with tonal trickery.
But the quality of the songs ultimately crumbles under the weight of the record’s morose topics and sound. Instead of providing empathy, the Pink Mountaintops draw the listener into their frustrations, as they fixate on the here-and-now. The undertones of hope for the future are lyrically understated and absent from the instrumentation; a little light would have gone a long way.