Any band that makes me think of Guster is automatically on my good list, which makes the Atlanta folk/pop duo Rye the newest member of that club. David and Jonathan Fallis show off a smooth, upbeat, smile-inducing sound on the Near Me EP reminiscent of Easy Wonderful and Keep it Together. Opener “She Flies” kicks off the sound perfectly with a memorable guitar melody, tight vocal harmonies and an easy-going chemistry between the instruments. The thoughtful “You Matter” still retains great motion and melodies throughout, while “I Go Crazy” invokes an affectionate mood with folky harmonica and acoustic guitar. When they slow it down and go for the drama (“Midnight Conversations,” “Take Me Away”), the results are a little less satisfying, but it seems that with a bit more polish they could master that too. At the moment, however, Rye is at its best when the melodies are warm and the good vibes are flowing.
I’ve been listening to Guster‘s Easy Wonderful for almost a week at work, which is saying a lot. Not only is it a good enough album to stand up to 15-20 listens in rapid succession, it’s an album that keeps me interested and coming back to different tunes. I was originally obsessed with the folky stomp of “Stay With Me Jesus,” which rivals “Jesus on the Radio” as the best Guster track with the Christ in the title. I moved on to the almost Blue October-ish shuffle/murmurs of “On the Ocean” and then the bouncy “This Could All Be Yours.” Most recently I’ve been noshing on the ukulele-led “What You Call Love,” which has an absolutely arresting chorus.
If you hadn’t parsed the fact from the above paragraph, Easy Wonderful is pretty upbeat musically. But in true Guster style, the songs never tip over into the saccharine or the maudlin, riding the line where the two emotions mix. This dedication to the confluence of emotions does provide the album’s single low point, as “This Is How It Feels to Have a Broken Heart” would actually lead one to believe that it feels like disco, and not like dying. It’s a bit confusing.
After being lukewarm toward Ganging Up on the Sun, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself loving Easy Wonderful. Although it is extremely enjoyable, it continues Guster’s musical progression. They’re making unadulterated pop songs now, with the unconventional instrumentation of their early work all but disappeared. There’s no track that approaches the songwriting prowess of “Come Downstairs and Say Hello,” nor is the subtlety of “Backyard” attempted anywhere here. The dramatic power of Lost and Gone Forever is almost entirely gone, replaced with instantly accessible melodies and feel-good vibe. This is not a bad thing at all, but one must note that Guster of Easy Wonderful and Guster of Lost and Gone Forever have little in common but the voice.
One past the nostalgia (and “This Is How It Feels…”), Easy Wonderful is a glorious set of pop songs. Each of them are cheery, catchy tunes that will warm your cold heart or mellow your frantic one to a goofy grin and a high five. “Do you love me?” Adam Gardner belts out in the song of the same title, and the answer is undeniably yes. What other option is there?
Easy Wonderful is streaming at Whole Story, the Whole Foods official blog. Go pick it up.