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Mates of State: Mountaintops (Barsuk) 

Eighteen seconds into "Palomino," what started as a toe-tapping song with an airy synthesizer bursts into a chorus of "oohs," and Mates of State's new album rushes off like a child at play.

"Palomino" is concentrated sweetness, an album and perhaps career highlight for Mates of State, a band that peddles bottled joy and sunshine.

Mates of State has always been a band defined by the marriage/partnership of keyboardist Kori Gardner, drummer Jason Hammel and their shared harmony. Mountaintops has flashes of '80s new wave and synth pop, Motown and shoegaze.

After "Palomino" comes "Maracas" and "Sway," songs that sustain the tempo while drawing out the album's lyrical themes of love, individuality, balance and change.

The album turns somber on "Unless I'm Led," a meditation on mistakes and messes, and those fixes that need both internal and external action. But it's the chorus of "you learn to live without me" that brings about questions of solitude, individuality and how to balance personal needs in a committed partnership. It's decidedly adult subject matter, yet taken up in the adolescent language of pop music.

Even when the band finds clarity—as on "At Least I Have You," when love, life and purpose all align—it's in fleeting moments, a lesson Mates of States deliver in their own sweet way.

More by Eric Swedlund

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