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Guster

 

If you've ever heard anything by this group, it's probably the extremely minor hit single "Fa Fa", from 1999. This was a song that actually got played on MTV2. Repeatedly. Granted, this was before M2 turned into the steaming pile of crap it is today, but still, that's pretty impressive for three Jewish kids from Massachusetts, isn't it?

Oh, and as for some biographical information: the band is comprised of singers/guitarists Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner and legendary conguero Brian Rosenworcel (now that's a rock star name if ever I heard one!). They met at Tufts University (fellow alumnus? Tracy Chapman!) and started out as Gus, then changed their name when they realized that Gus wasn't the most original moniker (i.e. someone else already used it). They're also pioneers in an ingenious attempt to exploit fans, called the "Rep program", whereby fans sell CDs for them. Of course, the so-called "Guster reps" do get special perks (being put on the guest list, occasional free stuff, and invites to the exclusive yearly Rep Show), so it's not as heartlessly capitalistic as it sounds. Especially considering how left-of-center Ryan Miller is. Anyway, on with the reviews!

lineup: Adam Gardner (vocals, guitar); Ryan Miller (vocals, guitar, an increasing reliance on keyboards); Brian Rosenworcel (percussion, nice Jewish boy)

review index: Parachute / Goldfly / The Pasty Tapes ep / Lost & Gone Forever / Keep It Together

missing albums: none


Parachute - 1995

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Mona Lisa, Fall in Two, Happy Frappy, Parachute
Worst songs: The Prize, Eden, Window

 

As it has been opined by many a reviewer, bands start out in two ways: one, creating a jaw-dropping classic that they will never again equal in their career, or two, starting out mediocre and building up their songwriting/playing abilities as they get older. Guster is a group firmly entrenched in the second camp.

The album's main fault lies in the sameness of the songs. Following the great album opener "Fall In Two", nearly every song can be divided into "slow song with soaring vocals" or "fast song with basic acoustic guitar riffing". The slow songs fail as often as they succeed: balancing out the beautiful "Parachute" and "Mona Lisa" are the dull "Eden" and annoyingly repetative "The Prize". The fast songs fare better (though "Window" is annoyingly generic), with occasionally interesting guitar parts (love the faux-jazz guitar riffing on "Happy Frappy"!). Nevertheless, there's enough good material on here to warrant purchasing this sound disc, as long as you get the others first!


Goldfly - 1997

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Great Escape, Rocketship, X-Ray Eyes, Airport Song
Worst songs: Bury Me

 

Better! The main problem with the last album was that the arrangements were so samey. On Goldfly, this problem is solved by diversification. Effects are used on the guitars, producing various interesting tones that one wouldn't normally expect from the acoustic guitar. Strings also pop up on a few tracks! Hooray for the string section!

Also, the songwriting is improved. Only one song on here annoys me, and that's a fan favorite ("Bury Me"). The rest is excellent, though the second half of the record isn't quite as good as the first. I've got very little left to say about these nice boys. They write good songs. For the love of God, isn't that enough?!


The Pasty Tapes ep - 1999

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: I Spy, The Harder They Come
Worst songs: Bury Me

 

An exclusive item sent out to the Guster reps (one of which is my best friend, which explains how I got my hands on a copy), this ep contains a smattering of tracks including a "rough mix" (sounds pretty much exactly like the officially released version) of "I Spy" from the album below this, a cover of Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come" (quite good!), a couple live tracks, one good ("Closer") & one bad ("Bury Me" -- blah), and a hilariously silly remix of "Airport Song". Certainly nonessential, but a fun little thing to have around, though it'd be difficult to find.


Lost & Gone Forever - 1999

Rating: ****
Best songs: All the Way Up to Heaven, Two Points for Honesty, So Long
Worst songs: Center of Attention

 

Now this rocks. Perhaps finally getting a decent producer (Steve Lillywhite of U2/Peter Gabriel/XTC/Dave Matthews Band/Morrissey/Big Country/Psychedelic Furs production fame) helped, but this is their best album yet. Only one song is a clunker, and that is "Center of Attention", which just don't grab me at all.

So that leaves ten good songs. I won't bore you with the details, but I will say that "All the Way Up to Heaven" is possibly the wittiest song of 1999 (so what if I haven't heard 99.99% of the songs released in 1999?), featuring a drum pattern from a Casio keyboard, a whistling solo, falsetto vocals, theremin lines (courtesy Phish keyboardist Page McConnell) and a Brian Wilson tribute all in the span of five minutes.

Buy this album. And support your local independent music groups!


Keep It Together - 2003

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Keep It Together, Careful, Backyard, Amsterdam
Worst songs: I Hope Tomorrow Is Like Today, Long Way Down, Red Oyster Cult

 

Despite a bunch of record company-related troubles, the Gustaires persevered and finally got this thing released after working on it for a year or so. Was it worth the wait?

Well, it's Guster, of course it is. I mean, I've got two degrees of separation from the band, how can I not like whatever they put out, even if it's extended dance remixes of "The Prize" and "Bury Me"?

Okay, okay, enough of my bragging about my high-profile industry connections... Anyway, this time they recruited longtime Yo La Tengo tape jockey Roger Moutenot to produce (except for four songs produced by Ron Aniello, because the record company didn't think their material was quite commercial enough, so they made them come up with some more songs), and while the end result isn't as candy-coated and smooth as Sillywhite's work, it's a solid effort nonetheless.

Actually, it's a good thing the record company was being a polaroid-head, since the Aniello-produced stuff is among the best work of the album: the title track is an absolutely brilliant tune, and "Amsterdam" is a big slice of catchiness pie. My only real problem with the album, in fact, is that it really skids to a halt at the end: "Long Way Down" and the Ben Kweller (not Ben Harper or Ben Kramer!) collaboration "I Hope Tomorrow Is Like Today" are both absolutely dull tracks. Also, the Adam-sung "Ramona" really doesn't accomplish a lot. Otherwise, this discus of silicon and plastic is chock full of catchy melodies and shit.

So what do you think: should I rename my site "Random Tangent Reviews With Cole"? It's kind of wordy, but accurate.


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