(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, August 27, 2010

CD review - Guster, Ganging Up On The Sun (2006)

Outside of their music, Guster is almost as interesting as the songs they play. Their on-stage stunts have been legendary (e.g. opening for themselves as a different band), their environmental activism (Reverb) has reached out beyond greening their own tours, and their grass roots connection to their fans is strong.

Much of this had registered, but I had only heard a few songs over the years. Ganging Up On The Sun is the first Guster album I've heard all the way through and their music shows a diverse range, with a balance between the revelatory and the facade of cool detachment. There are plenty of familiar sounds, like the pseudo-ska beat of the Police, Beach Boy style harmonies, or Chris Isaak's moody reverb soaked guitar. None of these touches rise to the level that they could be called influences or even original sources. They are just descriptive tools for a band that hasn't pigeonholed their musical style.

Ganging Up On The Sun also bounces between perspectives and moods. There's the mournful rootlessness of Lightning Rod, with its sense of alienation and anomie. Here the simple acoustic core of the song creates a pretty frame for the sad lyrics and soaring harmonies. Satellite is also moody, but it's detached. There's not enough engagement to call it introspective. The veneers of instrumental parts create a smooth, impervious feel. These contrast with the jaunty pop bounce of Manifest Destiny or the uptempo indie folk shuffle of The Captain.

Throughout the album, many of the songs have a moderate complexity. For example, in the driving indie rock of C'mon, it throws some brooding, pessimistic lyrics against an optimistic musical delivery. The overall effect is one of turning a corner and breaking out of a depressive funk.

The dark lyrics of The Beginning of the End work well with the strong rocking frantic beat:
We're not sentimental, we're just oil filled machines
Trying not to say the things we mean.
You gotta show us a little love
This is a stark contrast to the many of the more reflective songs of the album. Despite the curves and hills covered by Ganging Up On The Sun, though, Guster never loses their musical way. That's why it's a satisfying album. "Hang on, hang on, there's a twilight, a nighttime and a dawn." I'll pour a glass of Traquair House Ale and wait for that dawn to come.

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