The East Coast alt rock institution's eighth full-length effort, Look Alive commences with its titular cut, an icy synth pop brooder that sounds considerably removed, stylistically, from the band's college rock/jangle pop past. Guster's transition from quirky hand percussion-led folk-pop trio to soaring modern rock mainstays began almost two decades ago, but 2015's Evermotion saw the group adding a bit of electro-pop to their arsenal, a predilection they lean even harder into this time around. Produced with a punch by Leo Abrahams (Regina Spektor, Brian Eno/David Byrne, Belle and Sebastian), the nine-track set was recorded in a vintage Calgary keyboard museum -- a 1980s Ensoniq Mirage synth plays a leading role in the proceedings. As hook-heavy and immediate as the title cut is, it's outdone by the jubilant follow-up "Don't Go," which ticks off all of the Guster talking points (soaring melody, affable delivery, and quirky lyrics) while staying true to the group's new voltaic direction. Elsewhere, the proggy "Hello Mr. Sun," with its Vaudeville flourishes and singsong refrain that invokes Dark Side of the Moon's "Brain Damage" via Foster the People, is the outlier, but it pairs well with the breezy AM Pop of "Summertime," the buzzsaw stadium jam "Hard Times," and the near-perfect sugar blast that is "Terrified." At nine songs, Look Alive never wears out its welcome, and its commitment to sonic versatility, no matter how nostalgia-driven, helps temper some of its more forgettable moments. In evoking the '80s synth pop of their youth, Guster have unearthed a small gem that gives off a familiar, yet undeniably dazzling shine.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger