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"Standing on a building, I am a lightning rod, and all these clouds are so familiar." So begins Guster's latest sojourn into alternative rock, Ganging Up On the Sun, an album that melds pop and rock influences ranging from contemporaries Wilco, the Jayhawks, and Matthew Sweet, to '60s California Rock, British Invasion bands, and seminal progressive rockers like Pink Floyd, into a wistful, cinematic whole. In fact, Ganging Up On the Sun possesses both mature songwriting filled with angst and introspection and fun alternative radio-ready hits unified by lyrical discourse on otherworldly themes and the band's "anything goes" policy on musical construction.

The aforementioned "Lightning Rod" is a surprisingly melancholic opener that consists solely of progressive rock synthesizer, minimalist guitar, and muted percussion. The pace picks up a bit with the sweeping love song "Satellite," which combines the sounds of '90s Brit Pop and '80s Fleetwood Mac, and the unconventional piano-and-vocal harmony-driven pop-rocker "Manifest Destiny." "One Man Wrecking Machine" is a rather straightforward indie rock number with soaring power chords in abundance and lyrics that are equal parts disillusionment and hope, while "The Captain" would not be out of place on a Wilco album with its rousing guitar and banjo instrumentation and double time beat. "New Underground" features a much heavier sound that incorporates elements of hard rock, late '60s rock, and surf rock.

The sublime power pop ballad "Ruby Falls" begins the second half of Ganging Up On the Sun with Beach Boys-inspired vocals and space rock instrumentation married with brokenhearted lyrics. By contrast, "C'mon" is the most radio-friendly song on the CD, with lyrics and melody that combine the best work of Wilco and Matthew Sweet. "Empire State" is yet another marked contrast, with muted instrumentation that builds in a languid crescendo, while "Dear Valentine" has the feel of a late '90s Brit pop song. "The Beginning of the End" finds Guster once again mining the heavier side of the indie rock scene, with crunching post-punk guitars that border on blues stylings at intervals and a driving backbeat. "Hang On" concludes the proceedings with its anthemic, sing-along pop chorus and hopeful lyrics to counteract the disillusionment that has come before.

Throughout the album, Guster produces anthems that should be equally at home on college radio and with fans of most indie music genres, songs that are at once familiar and original. Ganging Up On the Sun is literate and engaging, lively and thoughtful. • Tracy M. Rogers

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