Muddguts Records · December 13, 2019
Conjured from the remnants of atmospheric dream pop and minimalistic post-punk, the slowcore scene of the 90’s stood in stark contrast to the more aggressive sounds popularized by grunge. A little band called Duster entered this scene relatively late, releasing their debut album, Stratosphere, in 1998. Stratosphere integrated the traditional gloom of slowcore with the warmth and intimacy of lo-fi production and used these two components to create an album that focused on the lonely, yet calm qualities of outer space. This album is seen today as an indie classic but went virtually undetected by the listeners of yesteryear. Duster disbanded following the release of their second and final album, Contemporary Movement, not to be heard from again for nearly 20 years.
Today, Duster stands as the face of slowcore, possessing a short, yet treasured discography, and a small, yet dedicated fanbase. Their popularity has grown exponentially in recent years thanks to the internet and artists such as Snail Mail citing them as inspiration. In early 2019, Duster reemerged and responded to this sudden spike in popularity through the release of the Capsule Losing Contact box set and the announcement of an upcoming tour. These announcements were complemented by the release of “Interstellar Tunnel,” a repetitive single that disappointed many fans due to its incomplete and rather irritating sound. It seemed as though Duster may have lost their touch during their two decades of silence.
It was later announced that a new album titled Duster would be released. Two decades and one disappointing single later, it would be reasonable to assume that the new self-titled album wouldn’t match up to Duster’s acclaimed past works, but it does. The self-titled work has combined Duster’s original sound with elements of electronic and harsh noise music, creating an album that’s delightfully reminiscent of their former musical ventures, all the while taking risks that give the listener a new sound to enjoy.
“Copernicus Crater” and “I’m Lost” open the new album and introduce the listener to Duster’s new sound. “Copernicus Crater” features cleaner production than “Stratosphere” without losing the band’s signature warmth and unsettles the listener with a repetitive guitar riff. “I’m Lost” is similarly repetitive, and presents the listener with a noisier Duster not yet heard before. These two tracks serve as admissible openers but feel as though they only exist to prepare the listener for the album’s third track, “Chocolate and Mint.”
“Chocolate and Mint”’s combination of clean drums, deep basses, fuzzy guitars and synth marks it as the culmination of Duster’s returning sound. This track broods just right and satisfies an itch in one’s brain that they didn’t know existed before listening. “Chocolate and Mint” is an incredible track that stands as the beginning to the real meat of the album. “Summer War” feels as though it was recorded 20 years ago, perfectly replicating the melancholic coziness of Duster’s 1997 EP Transmission, Flux. “Lomo” takes on a softer sound, ending with a synth-driven instrumental reminiscent of Duster’s 20-year-old track “Capsule Losing Contact.” This leads into “Damaged,” a fun, short instrumental driven by electronic beats and unintelligible noise.
“Letting Go” creates a cleaner, tremolo-driven tone reminiscent of “Contemporary Movement”’s sounds of urban solitude. “Go Back” sees Duster at their most experimental, featuring quiet, monotonous whispers being dominated by a foreground of unintelligible harsh noise. This track doesn’t seem to hit the way it’s intended and serves as the only “skippable” low of the album. This low doesn’t last long, however, as “Go Back” is succeeded by “Hoya Paranoia,” a track most closely reminiscent of the warmth one feels when listening to “Stratosphere.” “Hoya Paranoia” paves way for the concluding three tracks of the album.
“Ghoulish” sees Duster slowly descending into a messy soundscape of guitar effects and monotony. This leads into “Ghost World,” an enjoyable, yet forgettable track that sounds pretty similar to “I’m Lost” in its presence of noise and extremely repetitive structure. Just as “I’m Lost” introduces the body of the album, “Ghost World” successfully concludes it and prepares the listener for the album’s outro, “The Thirteen.” “The Thirteen” summarizes the many sounds of Duster, consisting of electronic drums, noisy rhythm guitar, and a tremolo-driven lead. This track ends this melancholic journey on a relatively positive note, with a melody that feels like a warm farewell.
Duster may not be as consistent as Stratosphere, but it has rightfully earned its place in Duster’s discography. This album, much like Contemporary Movement, may take multiple listens to fully appreciate. Tracks that may have seemed monotonous during an initial listen can easily evolve into a nuanced soundscape of complex personality and authenticity that only Duster is capable of. Regardless, this self-titled album places Duster into an exclusive club of artists who have been able to return after decades of silence only to create yet another instant classic. Duster may not be for everyone, as the repetitive song structure and often-brooding timbre could be enough to put a listener to sleep, but this album is near perfect in its pacing and effortless ability to reinvent the definitive Duster sound without straying too far from home.