Barely recognizable as the college band who, more than a decade ago, first made a name for themselves by using a set of bongos as their primary form of percussion, Guster have evolved into one of America’s most reliable alt-pop bands. Their latest, Ganging Up On The Sun, even welcomes a new full-time member, multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Joe Pisapia, into the fold, and the resulting album is easily the band’s most sonically adventurous work to date. If there’s nothing as immediately hummable as “Barrel Of A Gun” or “Fa Fa” from 1999’s Lost and Gone Forever or as ready for Adult Top 40 airplay as “Amsterdam (Gonna Write You A Letter)” from 2003’s Keep It Together, Ganging is nonetheless Guster’s headiest album, and the one that most rewards repeated play. For its diversity of styles—from the country-inflected “The Captain” and the epic-length grandeur of “Ruby Falls” to the more straightforward power pop of lead-off “Lightning Rod” and first single “One Man Wrecking Machine”—and for the slightly smartassed, slightly disaffected tone of the band’s songwriting, the album is often as strong as Fountains Of Wayne’s Welcome Interstate Managers. Like that album, Ganging loses some of its momentum on a final run of songs that revisit some of the styles already tackled and that don’t have the same enormous hooks or nifty production elements and instrumentation that make the first half of the album so engaging. Still, if “One Man Wrecking Machine” were to emerge as a fluke hit single a la “Stacy’s Mom,” it couldn’t happen to a more deserving band.
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