album reviews

Ganging Up on the Sun
Reprise (2006)

Guster is heavily rooted in the college rock scene: The group began as a trio at Tufts University and used other college students as a street team to promote its 1994 debut. Much has changed since those days: Guster signed to a major label in the late 1990s and has recently added a new member, multi-instrumentalist Joe Pisapia, for its fifth album, "Ganging Up on the Sun."

The expansion results in a sound that is not only fuller but also more conventional, with percussionist Brian Rosenworcel switching from bongos to a more standard drum kit. Where guitarists Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner used to trade lead vocal duties, Miller now sings lead on most of "Ganging." The group still relies on its rich harmonies, though, from the twangy "The Captain" to the bouncy choruses of "Manifest Destiny."

Despite all the changes, Guster's laid-back pop remains intact. The carefree "C'mon" conjures up images of a spontaneous road trip in a convertible, while the breezy "One Man Wrecking Machine" fuses high school nostalgia with daydreams of changing the past. The use of traditional percussion does give more driving energy to songs such as the passion-fueled "The New Underground," whose juxtaposition of pounding drums and harmony-drenched choruses deftly balances Guster's new direction with its well-honed strengths.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 28 July 2006, Page WE06
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