Sweeter than sweet: Keep It Together finds Candyland

Recent days have been almost unbearable: Humidity has met, fallen in love, and is currently enjoying more than casual sex with its long-time ally, god-awful-heat. And almost all of Charlottesville’s living and breathing denizens are currently reaping the rewards of this cursed union.
But there’s one moment, usually between dawn and 8am, where everything outside feels just right, when the dew lying on the ground is still in its liquid form and has not vaporized and added to the day’s misery– and if you’re awake during that time, and it’s the weekend, and you’re not feeling too bad from the previous night’s excesses (be them animal, plant, mineral, or other), you just might feel happy about being outside, cruising along with the wind blowing in your ears, tapping on the steering wheel to the beats coming from your stereo.
And, in my humble opinion, the perfect album for this early morning “drive of fame” is Keep It Together, from the Boston pop concoction known as Guster.
Ryan Miller (guitar, vocals), Adam Gardner (guitar, vocals), and Brian Rosenworcel (percussion) formed Guster in 1992, when all three were students at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
Their sound– two acoustic guitars and a set of bongos– their ability to write overly catchy short pop songs, and their near constant touring schedule made the group’s first two releases– 1995’s Parachute, and 1997’s Goldfly– major independent hits.
Though 1999’s Lost and Gone Forever saw the group expanding their simple instrumental setup somewhat, their latest work, Keep It Together, finds the three going into a decidedly more mainstream band-lineup fashion: Though bongos can be found splattered across the album, a drum-kit has stolen much of their glory, and a bass guitar is heard for the first time here.
Keep It Together starts with the slow pop mover “Diane,” a song on which Guster shows off their new relationship with space. Spare arrangements have been frequent companions on previous Guster albums, but here Guster fills up the gaps with piano and sound effects. It’s good, carefree pop, sure to put a smile on your face (if you’re a lover of confectioners’ wonders), though the pace is a little too relaxed for an album opener.
“Amsterdam,” the current single from the album, is a ridiculously catchy, hook filled break-up song, where clean guitars rule and sunny weather is the forecast for the track. Keep It Together truly hits its stride on “Homecoming King,” where sunny harp-ish guitar parts during the verses set off song’s keyboard/electric guitar-studded overly voluminous chorus. This track, along with really only two exceptions on the album, is pure pop glory, and sometimes that’s all you need.
If just listening to Guster’s Keep It Together can make your whole day a little brighter, who knows what hearing the group in Concert on September 9 will do? I’m going to bet toothy grins will be playing no small role during the course of the evening.

Guster, with Sam Roberts, performs at the Charlottesville Performing Arts Center on September 9. $20, 7pm.