Now Hear This – Guster (2009)

Now Hear This!
Music You May Have Missed
By Jonathan “Killstring” Herzberger
Originally published in The Cauldron, 2009

Man. Education is awesome – I sure do love all this learning I’ve been doing. New ideas, new takes on old thoughts, and of course, new responsibilities, as the Now Hear This Aircraft Carrier becomes the launching point for all of our fine, bubbly Cauldron’s Arts and Entertainment news.

Okay, so that’s a rough, and stretched metaphor – but it wouldn’t be NHT without at least one absurd self-referential third-person statement, would it? Facts, you can get anywhere, but when you want useless, ponderous drivel with your hidden musical treasure why, we’re your one-stop-shop my good man/woman/hermaphrodite. And we’ve got both in ample quantity this week, cats and kittens, boy howdy.

But I’ve digressed, and it’s only the third paragraph. Education, is the word today. And we’ve spent so much time as an editorial, literary body discussing how best to address you, dear reader, that even the mighty USS Now Hear This isn’t excused from the microscope. So. What do we know about you, the avid reader of NHT?

You’re intelligent. Literate. Urbane, and discerning. Forest creatures break out in choreographed song when you approach, and there are few human beings on this planet who don’t find you attractive on at least some level.

Also, you’re a student at Cleveland State University. This is important to note, as unlike certain other Universities that your faithful writer has attended, the populace here is much more diverse, both culturally and economically. For our purposes, this means one very important thing: namely, that there’s a distinct lack of know-it-all trust fund hipsters, spouting clichéd references to how everything you like is So Last Year, and they liked that, when they were seventeen and had no taste, and so on.

It’s a void, and one that we aim to fill – despite lacking the inherent arrogance, and you know… the yachts and all, we do possess an encyclopedic knowledge of modern popular music. So, what does all this mean? It means, quite frankly, that we’ve neglected your education, dear reader – well, feel lost and ashamed no longer… for today, we’re going to meet an old friend of myself, and scarf-clad indie kids worldwide.

Guster, meet the readers. Readers, Guster.

A little Massachusetts College band that got their start in 1991 – yes, Freshman, I know how old you were then, calm down – the classic lineup is duel frontmen Adam Gardener and Ryan Miller on acoustic guitars and vocals, with drummer Brian Rosenworcel providing Latin and African hand percussion. If that sounds like something that hackey sack-playing hippies would like, well, yeah. Probably. It’s also pretty damn compelling pop music no matter who you are, but if you’re looking for something a bit more polished, you might want to avoid their first two albums, 1994’s Parachute, and 1997’s Goldfly. You’ll miss out on some quaint little indie folk, before we knew to call it that, but maybe that’s the point.

The real point here, is their 1999 release, Lost and Gone Forever, produced by Steve Lillywhite – you know, the guy who did all those Dave Matthews Band albums that people like for some reason – this marked the turning point in both sound, and commercial success for Guster. Sure, the first two tracks seem fairly standard fare, a little electric guitar thrown in, but otherwise, not too distinct. But when we get to the horn section in the album’s lone hit “Fa Fa,” or the atmospheric electrics on “I Spy”, the sense of composition has skyrocketed past simple folk tunes at this point.

By the time you reach the two songs that make up the disc’s climactic third act – the Peter Gabriel-esqe, mandolin-laden “Two Points for Honesty”, and the apocalyptic “Rainy Day” it’s clear that the quaint little trio has morphed into an entirely different animal, and the scope of the work is undeniable, inexorable in a sense; you just can’t help but be swept away.

For plenty of bands, that’d be it for the article. We’d say something witty, tell you to go buy the damn album, and we’d all drink imported tea, or something. But not Guster, oh no. They were just getting warmed up. You can still drink the tea though.

Between 2001 and 2003, the band was going through some serious evolution, not the least of which was Rosenworcel’s switching to kit drums – you know, the kind you play with sticks – in order to avoid nerve damage. The result was a more up-tempo, some might say more accessible sound. They also added multi-instrumentalist Joe Pisapia to the band, to bring the energetic, varied sound on the road. Both “Amsterdam” and “Careful” scored some rotation, and filmmakers gleefully plundered the compositions for use, the most recent being Wedding Crashers’ use of “I hope Tomorrow is Like Today.”

This album laid the groundwork for a lot of what would eventually be called ‘Indie’ Rock, by pretentious jerks like your humble narrator. But even that wasn’t enough for Guster, they just… kept going.

2006’s Ganging up on the Sun was released on Reprise Records, officially launching Guster into something like the mainstream. Ganging topped out at #25 on the Billboard charts, “Satellite” was a hit on some level, the band toured extensively, and somehow found a way to make accordions chilling, haunting, and atmospheric.

At the end of the day, Guster isn’t used as a benchmark measurement for indie bands without due cause. They are quite simply, one of the best musical acts that you can find in recent memory, regardless of your taste, or preferred genre. And with a new album slated for a non-specific 2009 release, Guster hasn’t lost its lustre.

If you hate me for that rhyme, don’t worry – I hate myself for it even more – but the band’s good enough to survive such hackneyed literary contrivances. Higher praise, I cannot think of. Stop reading and go buy all their records, and we’ll see you in two weeks.

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