By the time they released Mountaintops in 2011, Mates of State had been a band for over a decade, a span of time that most bands would find impossible to cover without becoming stale or completely losing the plot. Kori Gardner (keyboard/vocals) and Jason Hammel (drums/vocals) somehow manage to sound both fresh and focused on their sixth album. Writing a batch of songs that have a sharp emotional punch, tons of hooks, and a real-life lyrical angle certainly helps. So does the almost inexhaustible amount of energy and spirit the duo bring to their playing and singing. The level of passion they exhibit seems more like what you’d expect from a band on their first or second album, not a band who’s been around long enough to see styles shift and change, and countless bands come and go, while they keep cranking out the high-quality indie rock. Gardner and Hammel also know how to make records that sound great, stacking all sorts of interesting keyboards on top of the steady drums to get a layered but direct sound that leaps out of the speakers in a way that a more “produced” album night not be able to. Mountaintops is a little brighter and snappier than 2008’s Re-Arrange Us, with a wider array of keyboards and a bit more programming throughout. As always, the songs are a blend of bouncing rockers and thoughtful ballads (or is it thoughtful rockers and bouncing ballads?) that are brought to life by the intertwined vocals of the duo. It’s an overall sound and approach they’ve pretty much perfected, and songs as catchy and true as "Palomino," "Basement Money," and "Maracas" will fit well on their eventual Greatest Hits album. They even stretch a little on the synth-country ballad "Desire" and the rambunctious, girl group-meets-gospel "Total Serendipity." Lots of bands decide that making music is more of a career choice than a passion, Mates of State have made indie rock a career, but have never let that get in the way of their passion. If they keep making records as good as Mountaintops, they will have totally earned their gold watch and pension when they call it a day.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra