The sixth studio album from the Massachusetts-founded band Guster contains some of the sweetest, most toothache-inducing pop music you’re likely to hear this year. Choirboy vocals (Adam Gardner and Ryan Miller alternate lead vocals), sing-a-long falsetto harmonies, thoughtful lyrics and impeccable arrangements (Joe Pisapia and Brian Rosenworcel round out the band) that draw on everything from synth pop to disco to Motown soul combine to make it one of the strongest of the band’s career.
The record gets off to a fantastic start with “Architects & Engineers” and the album’s sun-kissed first single “Do You Love Me?”, both of which build from casual strummers to full-blown pop songs. The latter incorporates everything from hand claps to church bells.
The bouncy, jangly “This Could All Be Yours” sounds like Graceland-era Paul Simon with a disco beat. “You come as Elvis Presley every Halloween / And dream of sing-a-longs the whole wide world will sing,” the band sings. There are several songs here that will make for fun sing-a-longs on long trips.
The relentless positivity and joyous bounce of “Bad, Bad World” is infectious. “There is love / There is peace in this world / So take it back / Say it’s not what you’d have thought / Grab a hold / Take these melodies / With your hands / Write a song to sing / Isn’t such a bad, bad world,” the song goes.
Elsewhere, the easy-going, piano and horn-enhanced “That’s No Way to Get to Heaven” would fit nicely into the canon of Tim or Neil Finn.
But things aren’t always quite so cheery or even quite what they seem under the band’s bright pop sheen.
A banjo adds a rustic touch to “Hercules.” It’s a weird little tune about “a simple love affair, dangerous and true.”
On “What You Call Love,” which features both a prominent ukulele and mariachi-style horns they offer: “Not everything is always just as it seems / What you call love is just urgency.”
The lyrics on the harmonica-tinged, disco-fied “This is How it Feels to Have a Broken Heart” conceal a hard-earned truth that even when you put hard work into a relationship, it can end painfully: “We’ve colored in the lines and followed all the signs / Fought a war till the war was over.”
“Jesus and Mary” talks about starting a war too. It’s not a song of praise but more about boredom with iconography of all sorts. Jesus also gets a shout out on “Stay With Me Jesus,” which pokes fun at those who believe the King of Kings is looking out for them to the exclusion of all others.
And on the set-closing synth-fest “Do What You Want,” the band proclaims “No one’s gonna care if we disappear” before the song fades away on a killer guitar line.
Actually I think a lot of folks might care if Guster disappeared after such a strong record. Though the recording process was reportedly a bit more labored than the finished product belies, this record is both easy and wonderful. Good luck trying to hit those high notes while you’re cruising down the highway. And good luck trying to get these songs out of your head.