Mason Jennings & Guster: Cinco

Yessireebob, today’s the big day. Show kicks off around 7:30 or so at the elegant Boston Opera House. And that pretty much means we’re taking the afternoon to get ourselves pumped for the show. But, wait Jim. You’ve been getting yourself pumped for the entire week? Isn’t that the point of revisiting every album Mason and Guster have ever recorded?

Okay, you caught me with my hand in the cookie jar. We don’t really need to get any more pumped than we already are, but we’ve got some old friends rolling into town from Maine. We’d like to thank Michelle Gonzales from Boom L.A. and all the good folks in Mason Jennings camp that we’re kind of enough to deal with our interview request and review tickets, etc.

Both Ganging Up on the Sun from Guster and Boneclouds from Mason Jennings landed in our 2006 best of list. We can’t really remember, but I’m sure if you swing by G.F.O.M. Glynnie’d be kind enough to find the list for ya’ll. We’ll switch things up and go with Guster first this time around.

Guster – Ganging Up on the Sun

Another three year hiatus proved to befit the band well. Multi-instrumentalist Joe Pisapia joined the band fulltime. And all the slight changes over the years paid big dividends. Ganging Up on the Sun sounds like the work of a cohesive band. All the various instruments and sonic flourishes no longer sound unique or out of place. This is a major album and if it came from any band other than Guster it would be viewed as a work of great substance. A staggering work of pop genius. Unfortunately, the story behind the album was that Guster took a big piss on their fans. Gone completely are the bongos and acoustic guitars and pretty much any songs sung by Adam Gardner. Ryan Miller steps into the limelight as the lead singer of the band on this one.

Most longtime fans gave this album one listen and said, meh. Thanks but no thanks. But screw’em. The real winners were music fans and Guster. No longer bound by any constraints, they are free for the first time in their career to sonically create whatever they damn well please.

The epic “Ruby Falls” sounds like something off a Pink Floyd album and Coldplay may want to give a listen to hear how tension is built in a song. Pisapia’s influence can be heard all throughout the album, especially on the banjo-led country rocker “The Captain.”

Old fans would welcome the addition of “Manifest Destiny” and “One Man Wrecking Machine” and certainly “C’Mon.” That the band has crafted an album as layered as this and still manages to sound loose is no easy feet.

“The New Underground” is their hardest rocking song, a fuck off to indie bands everywhere, and on the other spectrum is “Empire Falls,” just Miller and a gently throbbing organ.

Had this record been released by Coldplay, or say Arcade Fire, it would be hailed as a masterpiece. Here’s to hoping Guster continues this album with an even better one. They feel and sound like a different band, a band that matters. Track List:

  1. Lightening Rod
  2. Satellite (MP3)
  3. Manifest Destiny
  4. One Man Wrecking Machine
  5. The Captain (MP3)
  6. The New Underground
  7. Ruby Falls (MP3)
  8. C’Mon
  9. Empire State
  10. Dear Valentine
  11. The Beginning of the End
  12. Hang On (MP3)

Mason Jennings – Boneclouds

Just about the most press Mason Jennings got was when he jumped ship to Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock’s vanity label Glacial Pace Records. But the news wasn’t so much about Mason as it was that he was Isaac’s first pick to sign. It was more about Isaac Brock than it was about Mason, which is all well and good. There are worst company to be with than signing, essentially with Epic Records.

Regardless. Boneclouds finds Mason experimenting because of his larger recording budget. Not sure if it was really necessary, but it’s nice to hear him mix things up. Thematically, this time around his record can be thought of as a companion piece to Century Spring. Both are very romantic records, full of lush arrangements and sometimes awkward lyrics about just how awesome being in love is.

The Bad Plus’s David King steps in to bang the skins and his delicate, yet funky touch is a welcome addition. There are only two missteps, no doubt from the added budget. It’s worth noting that both “Some Say I’m Not,” a weird Middle Eastern chant with heavy percussion (played live it’s pretty f’in awesome) and the synthy vocal reverb anti-war song “Where the Sun Had Been” sound alarmingly out of place. It’s not that they’re bad songs, it’s just not necessarily what Mason does best.

And what he does is write love songs, with an old timey feel. Never more evident on “If You Ain’t Got Love,” written for his newborn daughter, album opener “Be Here Now” is one of the strongest songs he’s ever written, or the story of “Jackson Square,” a tune where the pianos bang in after the first chorus and hit home the notion of a love gone wrong and the apartment that reminds him of that horrible affair. Overall, this album isn’t nearly as strong as Use Your Voice but it’s nice to hear Mason get all lovey-dovey again.

Track List:

  1. Be Here Now
  2. Gentlest Hammer (MP3)
  3. If You Ain’t Got Love
  4. Some Say I’m Not
  5. Moon Sailing Over Water (MP3)
  6. Jackson Square
  7. If You Need A Reason (MP3)
  8. Which Way Will Your Heart Go
  9. Where the Sun Had Been
  10. Jesus Are You Real (MP3)

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