New Guster album resembles mild breeze

Andrew Gaug

When Guster began in 1994, the music realm was a completely different scene. Lesser-known bands at the time, such as Nine Inch Nails and Stone Temple Pilots, were slowly getting attention on the radio, while Hootie and the Blowfish and Ace of Base were the new big artists.

Since then, Guster has watched its musical surroundings change as bands such as Modest Mouse and Dave Matthews Band, which were once on the same level of popularity as Guster, are getting more media attention. Meanwhile, Guster maintains a smaller but faithful following.


Ganging Up on the Sun

Released on Reprise Records

Stater rating (out of five): ***

Thirteen years later, it faces the crossroads other bands have reached in the past – either progress and change or stay the same and fade away.

With its new album, Ganging Up on the Sun, Guster presents a good case for why they’re still relevant. Unlike its other albums that were based on folksy, acoustic-based music, this one has the band going for a more soaring, sonic album that will appease both old and new fans.

The problem with trying something new is that the band is venturing somewhere it’s not used to, and in this case, it shows.

Softer, atmospheric songs such as the opener “Lightning Rod” and “Empire State” are stronger tracks because of their intimacy and restraint, while others come off as bland and tired. For example, the album’s first single, “One Man Wrecking Machine,” is musically interesting, but lead singer Ryan Miller seems to be on autopilot while singing. Lyrics such as “One day you’ll be a man/one day you’ll understand” are cliched and overused.

Other songs in which the band attempts to show a more edgy side, such as “Dear Valentine,” hit their climax too early and are left to meander throughout the remainder of the track.

But for every bland track, there are at least two good ones. “Manifest Destiny” sounds like the offspring of Ben Folds and The Beatles – it’s a piano-laden track mixed with great harmonizing and a sunny, 60s rock melody.

Other adventurous songs like the bluegrass-inspired “The Captain” and the very rocking “The New Underground” show a band that can successfully blend its own sound with many different genres and not sound contrived or forced.

Like the songs themselves, the songwriting is inconsistent. But when it’s good, it’s deep and thoughtful. “Lightning Rod” imagines a soldier looking down upon the battlefield, (“Swimming in adrenaline/The sky is caving in”) and expresses his desire to leave with just a one-word chorus, “Home.” “Empire State” explores a lonely man’s feelings of isolation and rejection (“Been digging to China/been a fish in the sea/been talking to Jesus/he’s not talking to me.”)

While the album shows that the band still has kinks to hammer out before it can make a cohesive album with its new-found sound, it’s a noteworthy effort. Whether longtime fans will embrace it remains to be seen, but in the song “C’mon,” Miller seems to be showing no regrets about its new direction by ending the song with the lyrics “We’ll be all right/we’ll be easy/don’t look back/just c’mon.”

Contact features correspondent Andrew Gaug at [email protected].