Imagine a wine critic holding a glass of wine up to the light, studying the color and body before taking that first exciting sip, and then setting the glass down to think about what he’s looked at. Then, instead of picking up the glass to take his first drink, he picks up his pen and paper to write his review. This doesn’t happen in the wine world; it’s ludicrous to think that a critic would merely look at a wine and then write an entire review based on that one look. I’d like to think that before they start writing about a piece of art, whatever the medium, most critics spend some time with it, give it room to breathe, and let it do what it’s supposed to do.
I look at music much the same way, especially albums. People who care about what they’re doing have deliberately put together a collection of songs. There are themes, melodies, and (sometimes) lyrics that, in the end, equal more than the sum of their parts. It’s disheartening to think that some influential album reviews are written after only one pass, like my imaginary wine critic who skips the best part of the process.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to try a different way of reviewing music — a sort of deconstruction. After each listen, I jot down some notes. Eventually, I start to understand an album more clearly; as I become more familiar with the music, my feelings about it become more realized.
For my first go at this, I’d like to start with Easy Wonderful, Guster’s newest album. The Massachusetts band’s first three albums contained well crafted, catchy-as-hell indie folk, but it wasn’t until Keep it Together that Guster really came into their own as a multi-instrumental, envelope-pushing pop band, much the same way the Flaming Lips did with their fantastic 9th album, The Soft Bulletin. And like The Soft Bulletin, Guster’s Keep it Together had a joyful clarity. Some songs conjured up ethereal images of other worlds; others were direct and sweet, about love and friendship. If Keep it Together is where I fell in love with Guster, I’m hoping that Easy Wonderful keeps the love fresh. Continue reading…