2:50 p.m. Saturday
Husband-and-wife duo Kori Gardner (keys) and Jason Hammel (drums) started out harmonizing Mates of State's catchy, minimalist confections while staring eerily into each other's eyes from across stages. On 2008's Re-Arrange Us (Barsuk), however, it was clear there was trouble brewing in pop paradise. The fleshed-out affair favors a formal Steinway in place of Gardner's affectionate organs and synthesizers, and a new suite of horns and strings is wedged between her looping melodies and Hammel's barebones, steady-as-she-goes drumbeats. Then, there are the lyrics, quietly devastating couples-therapy couplets like "Everything's going to get lighter/ Even if it never gets better" and "Forget all your politics for a while/ Let the color schemes arrive." Sometime after rosy fourth album and Barsuk debut Bring It Back (2006), the relationship seemed to morph into a resignation.
Despite these death knells (or perhaps because of them), Re-Arrange Us features some of the loveliest music in an already crowning body of work. It was a notable two-year stretch for the East Haven, Conn., team, who birthed two babies and twice released the best record of their career. The latest LP as a result is an emotional powerhouse in the guise of pristine chamber pop. Side-A highlights "My Only Offer" and "The Re-Arranger" are a model diptych of the Mates' aesthetic, mixed with something more affecting: shining verses and soaring round-robin choruses undercut by unexpected suburban pathos ("My friends, they all agree/ Give in to our defeat"). "We're nearing the end," Hammel sings later on the album's self-explanatory summit, "You Are Free." For the fans' sake, at least, say it ain't so. — Noah Bonaparte Pais