Satellite EP – Guster
Reprise Records 44491-2
Giving new meaning to the phrase “never say never,” over 15 years into their career, Guster has scored a legitimate AAA-radio hit in the form of Ganging Up On The Sun’s latest single, “Satellite.” While certainly not the first time the Boston-bred roots-rockers have made waves on the radio charts — both 1999’s “Fa Fa” and 2003’s “Amsterdam” received significant airplay, particularly on college stations — the sudden success of "Satellite" feels different, mostly because, as a friend recently said, “Guster has started to make records which they’d actually listen to themselves.”
Since emerging from Wetlands in the mid-1990s, Guster has drifted between scenes, picking up fans of alternative-rock, jambands, and indie-pop along the way. But, at the end of the day, the group has made its biggest splash on college campuses and, for much of its career, Guster has tailored its repertoire to that demographic. Yet, as the members of Guster have aged into their thirties and dug their collective teeth into New York’s musical underground (drummer Brian Rosenworcel produced post-jam/indie-rockers Sam Champion’s debut, Slow Rewind) Guster has found a solid, sonic palette to ground its infectious lyrics. Beginning with 2003’s underrated Keep it Together the group also completely abandoned its acoustic guitar/bongos shtick and last year’s Ganging Up On the Sun sits more comfortably next to the Shins’ Wincing the Night Away than John Mayer’s Room For Squares.
Despite some opposition from longtime fans, the shift seems to have worked and Ganging Up On The Sun’s catchy second single, “Satellite,” has scored a fair amount of radio play and spawned an EP of self-described “album rejects.” And, in addition to housing a single version of “Satellite,” the group’s second commercially available EP is also the first studio effort to truly hint at the humor and intimacy which has always driven the group’s live shows.
The EP’s best new offering is the twangy “G Major,” a number that shows of the country influence new member Joe Pisapia has brought to the band. The album’s other fresh tracks, “Rise & Shine” and “Timothy Leary,” are not quite catchy as the twelve tracks which comprise Ganging Up On the Sun, but show off the breezy, 1960s pop charm hidden in some of Guster’s deeper cuts. “Rise & Shine” is polished with gentle strings and swinging harmonies, while “Timothy Leary” is a more straightforward, Rogue Wave-like indie rock cut. Both are laced with subtle, strange instrumentation which add to the EP’s b-side feel. The rest of the disc contains the types of half-baked ideas which filled out fan-club EPs once distributed to remembers of its rep program: a down tempo dance remix of “Satellite,” a live take on the Beatles’ “Two of Us” from a recent appearance on LA’s tribute friendly KCRW, and a consciously off-key cover of Jim Steinman’s "Total Eclipse of the Heart," a fan-approved joke similar to Phish drummer Jon Fishman’s vacuum solos of yore. In addition, the disc features a discarded number for the Ganging Up On the Sun sessions, “I’m Through,” which was broken apart and built into one of that album’s finest tracks, “C’Mon.”
While nothing on the Satellite EP is particularly edgy, it almost all completely catchy and a welcome entry into the eclectic sounds the group has grown to embrace. And, if Guster’s role in the scene is resigned to that off a gateway drug, than the Satellite EP will hopefully be some listeners’ second hit.