Guster have always been an intriguing band. Throughout their career they’ve constantly managed to reinvent themselves, in excitingly refreshing ways. The bands has done this through a variety of different methods; one of the most successful being the inclusion of exotic instruments to compliment their dual acoustic guitar/variety of percussion. This has allowed Guster to take an eclectic approach to their music, meshing everything from aesthetically pleasing pop-rock, folk, and even curiously-appealing bongo music together to attain a unique sound. Through this, Guster have always been a very energetic band, full of ambition and promise. Three years after their last studio LP, Keep it Together
, Guster have once again changed themselves, in form of Ganging Up on the Sun
. However, this time around, the transition was not flawless.
One of the biggest wildcards in Guster’s new formula is the fulltime addition of multi-instrumentalist Joe Pisapia. Pisapia was something of a sixth-man off the bench (or a fourth man, in this case) on Keep it Together
, his main purpose being the accentuation of other members. However, on Ganging Up on the Sun
, Pisapia is an invaluable asset to Guster, playing bass, guitar, keyboard, banjo, harmonica, as well as performing backing vocals; all at various points throughout the album. His presence is especially evident on songs like “Captain" and “Manifest Destiny;" the former for banjo, the latter for piano. Pisapia is hardly a detraction from the band, though. To be honest, he seems as if he’s just one more piece in the puzzle; another gear to make Guster’s machinations run even smoother. Pisapia actually proves to be a perfect match for percussionist Brian “The Thunderchild" Rosenworscel. His infectious grooves overlay Rosenworcel’s surprisingly staid beats. All of this flows in natural synergy with the dual guitar/vocal work of Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner. Miller and Gardner have taken a little more affinity to electric guitars on Ganging Up on the Sun
; this is blatantly obvious in “New Underground“ or “The Beginning of the End," both of which features smoothly overdriven guitar lines.
Guster have also shown yet another impressive leap in songwriting maturity. As lyrical and musical content goes, Ganging Up on the Sun
is their most impressive output yet. There is a severe lack of virtuosity in the instrumental department, however. The incorporation of jazz-esque trumpet lines in “Ruby Falls" just doesn’t seem as “Guster" as previous works might’ve been. Still, the music on this album is very impressive; these guys know what they’re doing. Lyrically, the album is wonderfully on-form. Both Miller and Gardner convey emotive selections of wordplay from their lips, and it works extremely well with the great music.
Now, if the musicianship, instrumentation, and lyrics are so good, where does Ganging Up on the Sun
fail? The sheer lack of exuberance springs to mind. Ganging Up on the Sun
is a very reserved album when compared to the rest of Guster’s catalog. It’s very accessible, and enjoyable to listen to, but it misses out on one of Guster’s best qualities: it really isn’t all that fun. Conversely, the album is rather seriously inane, and lacking any real personality. As polished as Ganging Up on the Sun
is, it just doesn’t deliver the quirky amusement of its predecessors, and that is quite the disappointment. One of the record’s other deprecations is the lack of interest that “The Thundergod" generates. His percussion pieces were some of previous Guster album’s greatest highlights. Rosenworcel is kept woefully in check on Ganging Up on the Sun
. He still makes fine music, but sounds neither innovative nor diversified on this album.
Ganging Up on the Sun
is a fine album. It’s another brick in Guster’s proverbial wall, and will please to certain extents. However, for serious fans of theirs, I can’t help imagining that this album will satisfy. It’s far from being terrible, but it’s not the excellence you would come to expect from Guster. Chalk it up to the lack of enthusiasm to be found here; it really is the only reason for any criticism. If you’re looking into Guster for the first time, don’t let this be your first experience. For anyone else, I can still recommend this, mostly, just not very highly. Simply put, for Ganging Up on the Sun
, Guster seem to have lost their gusto. Let’s hope they can reclaim it in time to reanimate themselves once again.