Whether or not Guster have fallen into the acoustic rock trappings of stale guitar lines and trite lyrics in the past is up for debate, but their latest album, “Keep It Together” avoids the abyss with enjoyable lyrics and engaging, varied riffs blended seamlessly with some slick studio effects, all the while ditching their stripped-down double-guitar and percussion setup in favor of the more traditional guitar, bass and drums, with the occasional piano and horn.

What results is a warm and intimate album that explores a variety of textures without straying too far from the tried-and-true Guster style. Most of the tunes begin with utter simplicity and work their way toward higher and more elaborate goals in the end. It is refreshing to hear choruses that are full of digressions and variations in songs such as the radio-friendly “Amsterdam.” Where other bands might cease, Guster pushes, fiddles, and rearranges things to give their songs just a little more individuality.

It’s a formula that works, but it also leaves room for improvement. “Keep It Together” is at the very least a solid album, but it still lacks an overwhelming punch of sharp contrasts and fresh ideas. Its homogeneity, while it is relaxing and well-crafted, eventually becomes a letdown. The only song here that doesn’t quite fit the mold is “Red Oyster Cult,” a Beatles-esque rant that keeps the listener on edge with its dynamic changes and quirky rhythms. It’s a shame that “Keep it Together” doesn’t have more of this, since it really helps to shake things up.

Nonetheless, the attention to nuance provided by the variety of new instruments warrants some deeper listening, and the surface aesthetic is every bit as enjoyable as one would expect from these masters of acoustic rock. Their work with the bare minimum has given them great insight in creating rich-sounding studio effort with full instrumentation.


Rating: 3 stars.

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