“I definitely think this is our most ambitious album and we were a lot more fearless going into this one musically, lyrically and production-wise. In some ways, these songs are all over the map in texture and sound and tempo and feel but I hope, and think, that there emerges a through line that draws them all together. What that line is, I don’t really know. Melody? Pop sensibility?”
-Ryan Miller, of Guster
Guster has always seemed to be one of those bands that are capable of making magnificent, fantastic music; but has never actually been capable of doing it all at the same time, on one record. Virtually each and every Guster record ever released has been a flawed masterpiece, with 2003’s near-perfect Keep It Together showing signs that, yes, the boys of Guster may very well be capable of making a perfect album. And in spades, do they.
Flash forward three years after the release of Keep It Together, not forgetting the release of their unforgettable ’04 live CD/DVD Guster On Ice, and that brings us to their latest studio full-length: Ganging Up On The Sun. As I mentioned a few moments ago, Guster has always been capable of writing some great, great songs. Look on any record they’ve released, and I guarantee you’ll find at least two or three shining gems of greatness. But, I suppose it has taken all of around these ten years of playing, and honing their skills, to finally make this: what is undoubtedly the best record of their career.
As far as the sound goes, Guster has finally found a perfect, tightrope balance between their signature bongo drum beats, and the traditional drum kit; using whichever will truly, fully compliment the sound and tone of each song to it’s greatest potential. The songwriting on Ganging Up has also taken an unexpected climb up on the poetic ladder, which comes as no surprise after the evolution and versatility they showcased so easily on Keep It Together. Their isn’t a song here that doesn’t house some great wit, deep thoughts, and so lovably catchy lyrics as to the point that you’re nearly shocked that, track after track, things just continue to get better and better.
Basically every song on this release is catchy enough to be a radio single, but at the same time, virtually every track here also has the depth and poise to become a beloved by fans deep cut from the album, as well. Ganging Up is the perfect release to more than break the expectations of their already substantial fan base, as well as garner them quite a few new recruits in the process.
Opening things strongly with the subdued “Lightning Rod,” the three highest of the highlights are to follow: the catchy “Satellite,” fantastically written “Manifest Destiny,” and my vote for first single, the beguiling tale of a man looking back at aspects of his life in the past, but still seeming to bring no wisdom from the future with him–”One Man Wrecking Machine.” It’s stunning, simply stunning. Things never let up, though; with the country-tinged “The Captain” following, catchy rocker “The New Underground” soon after that; and things eventually wind down with the perfect album closing piece “Hang On.”
This is the album that, if you’re not already a Guster fan, will surely make you one. Maybe now, the fellows of Guster will finally find the mainstream success that they so desperately deserve. You would surely be hard pressed to choose a more deserving album for fame from their repertoire, and that is saying quite a bit in itself. Do yourself a favor, and buy this album.
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Pine – Pine
Pine’s debut album is a kind of hypnotic melancholia
Where did Ottawa’s Pine come from? It’s a question worth asking after listening to their painfully gorgeous self-titled debut album. Pine use the phrase “doom and gloom never sounded so sweet” to describe their sound, and true to that, this 11-track outing is filled with the kind of hypnotic melancholia that became the playbook for a great many Midwestern emo bands that emerged in the late 90s/early 2000s. The biggest difference here is that while Pine have the heartbreak down pat, their musical sense of loss is lifted slightly by the airy, more wistful sounds of their guitar-strewn songs. Sure, there’s a lot that sounds like a great Mineral record or a Gloria Record album, but there’s also traces of Florida indie/emo band The Rocking Horse Winner and at times, bands like Rainer Maria.
Pine are buoyed by the great vocal work of Darlene Deschamps. Her voice soars through tracks like “Memento” and the terrific “Lusk”. The latter in particular is a great example of how Pine lull you into a sense of calm before it explodes in a collage of symphonic distortion and post-rock twinkling. In “Sunder” they ascend to louder, more expansive sounds. The song is a great combination of thick, fuzzy guitars, mid-tempo percussion work, and that pained vocal delivery that gives the song an extra punch in the guts.
The album took an impressive 2 years to finish, and you can hear the trials and tribulations of that gestation period through the songs. There’s pain, sadness, anger and frustration in songs like the intro “Within You” and the more new emo-esque “Swollen”, but also beauty, and as the album concludes, a sense of incredible catharsis. The record SOUNDS great too, with production values (by a production team that includes Will Yip, who has helmed records by Circa Survive, Braid, Saosin, and the Bouncing Souls to name a few) adding to the grand cinematic finish of the record.
For those who love what emo was in the mid to late 90s will find much to like about Pine just as much as those who like Explosions in the Sky and their post-rock brethren. Pine have been crafting their sound over the last few years and while their previous EP Pillow Talk showed a solid foundation, this new self-titled record is the work of a band close to the height of their abilities. Moving, beautiful, and littered with life’s roller coaster of emotions as songs, Pine is definitely recommended listening.