[Rating: 3.5 stars]
Earnest. That’s the word that comes to mind when discussing Guster and their catalogue. They have always had the ability to make familiar lyrics—“When you look in the mirror/Wish you were somebody else” from 2000’s “Fa Fa”—and motifs—the high school time machine framing of 2006’s “One Man Wrecking Machine”—something different with their musical conviction.
The five-piece band’s new album, Easy Wonderful, is full of those same universal ponderings and investigations of love. The opening track, “Architects and Engineers” builds around a loose acoustic guitar strum-pattern and describes a man staring out at the city from his window. Some non-verbal vocal acrobatics—pure crooning in the best sense of the word—lead into the song’s once-sung refrain—“So the architects and engineers/Build the monuments/Make the souvenirs.”
Lead singer Ryan Miller’s efforts highlight the album’s first single, “Do You Love Me?” “Do you feel it/Do you feel it now/Because we want it/But we don’t know how,” he pleads in the pre-chorus. Sure, that’s not exactly a groundbreaking sentiment. Still, Miller and his fellow Tufts University alums make it work with a phased-out guitar-driven chorus perfect for pop radio, featuring Miller’s falsetto asking of the song’s title question.
At times, Easy Wonderful strays away from love to investigate issues of religious faith. “Stay With Me Jesus” starts as a low-fi track that describes various brushes with death—a plane flight missed that then disappeared, a horrible car crash with only one survivor—but then adds layer upon layer, becoming a fully formed hymnal by the end. “That’s No Way to Heaven” is a contrast between the light-hearted instrumentation and the disquieting lyrics—“After the cut/Then comes the blood/Falls to the dirt/Turns into mud.” “Jesus and Mary” is the funkiest track on the album with a snappy drumbeat, thick bassline and a mention of Sodom and Gomorrah as well as FDR and his first lady, Eleanor.
“These times are strange,” Miller sings on “Bad Bad World.” Very true. So perhaps Guster can be excused for sticking to topics they—and their listeners—know well. The familiar can be comforting in the right hands, especially when put to a catchy beat and melody.