Guster has quietly become a very good pop band -- and something more. Over the past decade, they've been slowly honing their craft, building their fan base, and making records that are unprepossessing but more and more compelling. Ganging Up on the Sun just might be their best yet. It certainly is their richest sounding record: the guitars are perfectly layered; the vocals warm and inviting, with sun-kissed harmonies on nearly every track; the songs filled with bubbling keyboards, twanging banjos, and all kinds of sonic embellishment. The group, who produced much of the album themselves, have taken all kinds of care with the sound of the record. Each track sounds handcrafted and labored over, yet retains a loose and mellow feel. That's not an easy trick to pull off, and they manage it without breaking a sweat.
Of course, a lovely sound only gets your foot in the door. To get all the way in, you have to have some memorable and hummable songs, and Ganging Up on the Sun has a boatload of them. There are mellow strum-and-singalongs like the country-flavored "The Captain" and melancholy ballads like "Dear Valentine," along with hard-rocking tunes both cynical and angry ("The Beginning of the End") and just cynical ("The New Underground"). The album even makes room for the epic-length "Ruby Falls," which could teach Coldplay a thing or two about drama and dynamic tension. There is a gravity and depth to this record that may surprise even their devoted fans. Indeed at their best, which is where they operate throughout most of the album, Guster has the same qualities that the best Amer-indie bands do: total commitment emotionally and musically. A song like "C'mon" isn't powered by market considerations, niche marketing, or calculated constructs; it comes from the heart and it'll move you. A couple tracks on the album ("Satellite," "Hang On," "Manifest Destiny") might even break your heart in a sweet way -- in a way that you'll want to hit "repeat" as soon as the album is over. Any fan of low-key, perfectly constructed, hooky, and honest guitar pop would be wise to check out Guster if you haven't already. Check them out now if you wrote them off in the past as being lightweights or just some good-time local band that did well, because it turns out you were wrong. Ganging Up on the Sun is the work of a band who matters.