Monday, February 18, 2008

Keep It Together

Having written about several loud (and fabulous!) power pop bands it’s time for something a bit more subtle now. Guster is a wonderful American jangle pop band famous for its live shows and devoted fans. They have released five studio albums and many live albums (I guess they rock live – should check out some YouTube material).

I found Guster through Joe Pisapia who played on Cherry Twister’s second album (Cherry Twister is another story, will certainly be discussed some day..). Pisapia joined Guster’s official lineup in 2003. Other band members include Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner and Brian Rosenworcel.

I started getting into Guster by listening to their third album Lost and Gone Forever (1999), which seemed to be considered one of their best albums. And what a great album it is! It’s marvellous. Guster’s first three albums feature a generally acoustic sound (with some electric guitars), and obviously Lost and Gone Forever is
the ultimately successful realization of

that concept.

Lost and Gone Forever is built on melancholic feel and lyrics, wonderful nuances, amazing playing and excellent vocal harmonies. These elements create a distinctive atmosphere that is simply stunning. The first thing you’ll notice is that traditional drums aren’t present. In the cover booklet it says that all the percussions on the album were played by hand. This means that there is conga drum slapping all over the album. Percussionist Brian Rosenworcel does some excellent work with bongos, congas, hand snares and cymbals. You’ll also hear some wonderful wind instruments and strings on the album.

Guster guys really know their ways in vocal expression. Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner are both great singers. Their harmonies are perfect, and Ryan’s high-pitched voice and Adam’s lower vocals are utilized nicely. In addition, the two also occasionally sing in unison, whenever it is the best solution (sounds amazing, too).

The songs of Lost and Gone Forever are of excellent quality. Barrel of a Gun is superb, Either Way and All the Way into Heaven are beautiful. Then, there is the Adult Top 40 hit single Fa Fa. That song has basically everything: the conga drums sound great, the melodies are excellent, there is a very nice flute... Shortly after the second chorus the song breaks into a huge sound wall that is created with brass instruments. So, Fa Fa grows wonderfully towards the end. To me, it’s one impressive recording.

Keep It Together (2003) is Guster’s fourth album, and again it’s an excellent one. Joe Pisapia played on that album although he wasn’t a full member yet. On Keep It Together Guster mostly replaced the congas with traditional drums and their overall sound became more traditional, too. There are again some Adult Top 40 success singles on this album: Diane and Amsterdam, both of which are very good pop songs. The album is actually full of very good songs: Backyard, Homecoming King, Keep It Together, to mention a few. Jesus on the Radio is also great, spiced up with a banjo (or two) and again, gorgeous vocal harmonies. Keep It Together is again quite melancholic, although it might be a bit happier than its predecessor.

I’ve also listened to Guster’s fifth album Ganging up on the Sun (2006) a couple of times. I will have to listen to it more before I can start analyzing it. I’m slow. I have to listen to everything like ten times before I can say that I really know the album and which songs I like the most.

Well, that’s all about Guster today. They are a wonderful pop band, I’m glad I know them.

Guster at MySpace

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