Guster: Look Alive
Guster grew up playing Wetlands in the mid’90s and emerged from the homegrown AWARE scene, but they’ve long downplayed their original hallmarks of acoustic guitar, campfire harmonies and hand drums in favor of robust indie and pop flavors. Yet, their eighth LP may be their greatest stylistic leap yet. The nine-song collection is drenched in gauzy synths and vocal echoes, making for a truly experimental affair—this is the sound of a career band still having fun, throwing new ideas at a wall and seeing what sticks. Look Alive opens with its eponymous track, a creeping torch song with a daydream’s worth of snaps, piano pitter-patter and cavernous echo that finds singer Ryan Miller intoning, “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt courageous.” It’s a beautiful bummer, sure, but also a showcase of how adept Guster’s become with studio tricks—there are hushed layers of sound (Is that a harp? No, but they fooled me) to be revealed here. The band returns to a more familiar sound on “Hello Mister Sun,” a blend of popping percussion, sparkling horns and earworm hooks. But moody, shadowy composition rules the day on Look Alive —songs like “Mind Kontrol” and “Not for Nothing” are the very definition of “slow burn.” Guster stumbles into laughable territory on “Overexcited,” complete with fake British accents, Ringo beats and the line: “I’ll probably send a text/ Hey, Dawn. It’s Jim/ Would you like to have some sex?/ And if that’s too weird/ Maybe just a hot chocolate?” The band knows it’s ridiculous. Whether you laugh along, well, that’s up to you.