The band Mates of State have been around since the late ’90s and have had albums out starting in 2000. But nothing at all in their discography sounds anything like their latest endeavor – Crushes (The Covers Mixtape.)
Yes, it is an album comprised entirely of covers, and yes, they are a wide variety. The Mars Volta, Death Cab for Cutie and Fleetwood Mac all make lyrical contributions to this album. Musical, too, but the Mates tried to make the music their own.
What may surprise longtime fans is that the Mates have branched out from their typical lineup and are now including different instruments in the mix. Husband and wife duo Jason and Kori Hammel have stuck to the drums and keyboard formula for years, and on Crushes, they have included guitar and even a horn section. The first song “Laura” (originally by the band Girls) features a drum machine and turntable – very different from previous albums. The Hammel’s voices are also more produced than normal, separating their normally well-blended harmonies.
The album succeeds best where the covered artists have a female-male vocal dynamic and also where the Mates were able to infuse their style with the song. The Belle and Sebastian song “Sleep the Clock Around” is the best one by far because of Belle and Sebastian’s similar vocal style. Unlike the original, the Mates version is more pumped up and in your face, but it stays true to the source without being a straight copy.
Likewise, another success is found in the cover of Tom Wait’s “True Love Will Find You in the End”. Not because Wait has a similar voice, but because the group was able to take a stripped-down solo song and make it into a rousing cheer-up anthem.
The two songs that worked least well were the Death Cab for Cutie song “Technicolor Girls” and “Love Letter” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though; both songs sound all right. But, compared to the rest of the album, they could have been better.
“Technicolor Girls” disappoints for the simple reason that the Death Cab for Cutie version simply fits the lyrics better. The Mates rendition actually takes away from what originally must have been Death Cab’s lead singer Ben Gibbard’s observations and hard-wrought lyrics.
“Love Letter” originally is a lovelorn ballad and, somehow, when Jason Hammel sings it, the song begins to sound creepy and more than a bit disturbing. Maybe that is the vibe they were going for, but it does not seem to work well.
Other than a few missteps, the Covers Mixtape is worth picking up both as a fan of the band or as a fan of any of the bands covered. Most songs are unique enough from the original to warrant a listen, and those from artists previously unknown may serve as new “original” music for the first-time listener.