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Guster unveils a new sound

Observer Scene | Friday, August 29, 2003

Guster, a band renowned for its spontaneity and energy during live performances, recently released a new studio album, Keep it Together. While previous albums attempted to convey the elements that made their live shows so enjoyable: the unpredictable jams, frenetic bongo drumming, et cetera, Keep it Together reveals a much more polished and mature side to this ever-evolving band.

Though some purists may cringe at the sound of a traditional drum kit being played on a Guster album, Keep it Together possesses many well-crafted songs that merit numerous listens.

Moving away from the style of their previous albums, a style that earned the band a spot under the “jam-band” heading, Guster has managed to create a completely new sound, one possessing complex instrumentation, but in a much subtler manner than on previous releases. While Lost and Gone Forever contained a sound that could be described as “in your face,” nearly everything about Guster’s music has been slightly toned down for Keep it Together. The album contains many slow dreamy ballads, and the percussion and vocals are less overwhelming and seem less spontaneous than on previous releases, providing a more relaxing listening experience. However, because of these changes Guster’s new brand of music sounds much more mainstream. The infectious lyrics and catchy hooks make Keep it Together more easily categorized as a pop album, one that is perhaps more radio friendly than some fans would like, but luckily one that is not over-produced or annoying. The entire album is enjoyable, and listening to the band experiment with new instruments including a banjo, piano, harmonica and bass guitar keeps things interesting. The album as a whole improves with every listen, as the depth and complexities of each song are revealed in a way that is impossible to comprehend when listening for the first time.

By shifting to a more traditional sound, Guster will undoubtedly gain fans and also unfortunately lose some. Those who value Guster for its energetic and uplifting percussive melodies may be let down by this more mellow release.

However, the signs of experimentation present on many of the tracks show the band’s openness to trying new things, making Keep it Together perhaps their most ambitious and creative release yet. Though Guster may face criticism for abandoning their old formula, Keep it Together may be a necessary step on their road to creating the perfect album. Hopefully their next release will combine what works from Keep it Together with elements from their energetic previous albums. Those who are not familiar with Guster’s music might be better off buying Lost and Gone Forever or Parachute as an introduction to the band, but Keep it Together is definitely a quality album that deserves to be heard.

Contact Emily Tumbrink at etumbrin@nd.edu