In Greek mythology, Midas is known for his ability to turn everything he touches into gold. Mates of State are his modern-day equivalent, instead transforming every song they cover into a melodic pop gem. Warm tones swirl through Crushes: The Covers Mixtape, the husband-wife duo’s first attempt at recording and producing their own album.
Like 2008’s Re-Arrange Us and the four albums that came before it, Crushes finds Kori Gardner playfully attacking organs, pianos, and keyboards while Jason Hammel keeps the time signatures peppy with drums and synthesizers. Sometimes they stay fairly true to the originals—Belle & Sebastian’s “Sleep Around the Clock” remains a sprightly tune for a crisp spring morning. Yet they also experiment with genres and styles that are less obvious. When they take on The Mars Volta’s epic, sprawling “Son et Lumiere,” they replace guitars with pianos, transforming it into a sweeping ballad.
Mates of State channel The Flaming Lips on their cover of Tom Waits’ “Long Way Home.” Swollen stadium sonics and a chorus of “yeah yeah yeah’s” heighten the energy to kids-at-a-playground levels. Asian-flavored keyboard plinking adds sparkle to Nick Cave’s traditional piano ballad, “Love Letter.” They go over the top on Fleetwood Mac’s “Second Hand News,” the bubbly chorus bringing to mind a Pringles jingle.
The one constant here is the tug-of-war that Gardner and Hammel play with complex vocal harmonies. They weave up and down, alternating who takes on the higher notes, producing lush renderings of everything from Girls and Nick Cave to Fleetwood Mac. At their mercy, even the sad songs ooze with hope and optimism.
It’s a comfort to hear how the duo can make all ten of these cover songs special in a very specific way. Hammel and Gardner say they chose the songs for various reasons—nostalgia, to get more people to listen to the originals, or to shed a different light on their favorites. Whatever the case, they have put together a satisfying collection of covers that will last beyond the summer months. Not everything here is gold, but most of the poppy goodness sparkles like diamonds.
(Download "Laura," the Girls cover, and "True Love Will Find You in the End," by Daniel Johnston on www.matesofstate.com)