Album Review: Guster “Ganging Up On The Sun (Expanded)”

Ganging Up On The Sun
Graphics by Ainsley Basic

By Nora Onanian, Web Services Coordinator

Artist: Guster

Album: Ganging Up On The Sun (Expanded)

Favorite Songs: "Emily Ivory," "The Sun Shines Down On Me," "This Wheel's On Fire"

For Fans Of: Dispatch, The Shins, Death Cab for Cutie

It’s been 15 years since we fell in love with tracks like “Satellite,” “Manifest Destiny,” and “One Man Wrecking Machine” off of Guster’s album Ganging Up On The Sun. To celebrate this monumental anniversary, the Boston-based band put together a special expanded version.

The album begins by revisiting the 12 familiar tracks from the original. And don’t get me wrong, they sound great - but let’s cut to the fun stuff. The anniversary edition includes 12 extra listens - 4 B-sides from earlier EPs, two demos, a remix, two covers, and three never-before-released songs. Clearly, only a track-by-track review will suffice.

 

NEVER-BEFORE RELEASED OUTTAKES

“EMILY IVORY”

Guster is known for their eccentric stage presence and “Emily Ivory” seems like a guaranteed good time performed live. The instrumentation is full of fun. Bouncy piano riffs, and percussive congas are sure to have you grooving along. It’s also the perfect positivity-filled anthem as the end of the pandemic becomes in sight. “Blue skies are opening up,” Miller sings. “Emily, now the world is brightening.”

 

“SORORITY TEARS”

“Sorority Tears” doesn’t need lyrics to be interesting. The instrumental song captivates your attention from the start with electric guitar, drums, a horn and a clarinet. Just when you think the combination of instruments can’t grow more complex, a harmonica, triangle, and other orchestral elements are added to the mix. While it winds down at times, the energy picks back up fast. Like the best instrumental music, “Sorority Tears” seems to tell a story through the interplay of sounds. And storytelling is certainly something Guster is good at. 

 

“ON MY OWN”

“On My Own” brings listeners back to a time where Guster still had six members. Former bandmate Joe Pisapia, in the band from 2003 to 2010, takes lead vocals. The chorus, sung by Pisapia, Miller, and guitarist Adam Gardner, declares a sense of satisfaction in independence. Harmonizing vocals and a long instrumental outro gently takes this Tommy Petty-esque song to a close.

 

COVERS

“THE SUN SHINES DOWN ON ME”

Guster first released their version of Daniel Johnston’s “The Sun Shines Down On Me” on their 2004 album Come Downstairs And Say Hello. While written by Johnston, the lyrics fit seamlessly into the rest of the album. Ryan Miller’s vocals shine against piano and light drumming. Something I like about Guster’s music, especially in this cover, is the rawness of Miller’s vocals. The slight imperfections in the singing make it more authentic and emotional. 

 

“THIS WHEEL’S ON FIRE”

Guster takes on a lesser-known Bob Dylan song with “This Wheel’s On Fire.” The song comes off of Dylan’s The Basement Tapes, released in 1975. Fit with playful piano and harmonica, Guster’s version holds true to the twangy quality of the original song. It also keeps its mysterious tone while still having a new and fresh sound.

 

DEMOS

“HANG ON - DEMO”

“Hang On” is a feel-good song with a sweet message of perseverance. But one slight change between the demo and the final l in Ganging Up On The Sun makes for a very different listening experience. In the demo, the lyrics are directed to someone named “Suzanne.” Cutting out the name in the album’s version, Guster is able to deliver their encouraging sentiment more directly to all listeners. 

 

“ONE MAN WRECKING MACHINE - DEMO”

The demo version of “One Man Wrecking Machine” has a much more cool, laid-back feel. The power and assertiveness of Miller’s voice in the final cut may go along with the tone of the lyrics. But, the demo’s unpolished feel pairs well with the song’s theme of reliving high school days.  I especially like the way the instruments pop on this more stripped-back recording.

 

B-SIDES

“RISE & SHINE”

“Rise & Shine” comes from Guster's Satellite EP, released in 2007. Fast-paced acoustic strumming and a steady drumbeat keep the song moving along. The lyrics are poetic and sweet against the simple instrumentation. Miller encourages that the surrounding world be appreciated, singing “wake up, sweetheart… this place is coming to life.” 

 

“TIMOTHY LEARY”

This tribute to American psychologist and psychedelics proponent Timothy Leary also originally appeared on the Satellite EP. The tempo is quick with powerful electric guitar and drums. Through the lyrics, the song talks about taking a risk and trying something new. Subtle references to Leary’s ideology hint appear to be a nod to the huge cultural and creative influence LSD had in the 70s and beyond.

 

“G MAJOR”

“G Major” is a bright and playful spot on the album. Hand-clapping and upbeat vocals give it an optimistic tone from the start. The imaginative lyrics describe a land with crystal balls, kings, angels, and crusaders. But Miller sings that he can see past the fantasy. “I can see what’s really going on,” he echoes before joyful instrumentation takes the song to a close.

 

“I’M THROUGH”

“I’m Through” is an acoustic song oozing with self-assurance. Miller sings about flying to a new place and starting over. While he is fearful about making such a big change, he ultimately grows confident in his choice. “There is no doubt, I’m never coming back,” he sings. The cheerful instrumentation adds to the song’s warm atmosphere. 

 

REMIX

“SATELLITE - THE ASTRONAUTS REMIX”

The final song on the expanded version of Ganging Up On The Sun sees Guster’s biggest hit revamped. As opposed to acoustic guitar, “Satellite - The Astronauts Remix” is filled with celestial electronics. The beat carries strong throughout the song, but there is still an ambient quality to it. Miller’s slowed vocals and stretches of experimental fun add an extra two minutes to this version of the hit. While quite a bit different from the rest of their music, the remix shows that Guster is not afraid to try something new and I’m excited to see what they do next.

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