Though Duster doesn’t quite recapture the ineffable sublimity of Stratosphere, one never gets the sense that the band is straining to do so.
After nearly two decades of dormancy, indie rock band Duster have somehow found themselves on the receiving end of the sort of attention that they never seemed all that interested in courting while they were first active. The last we heard from them was in the year 2000, with the release of Contemporary Movement –– a follow-up to what is now considered their opus, 1998’s Stratosphere –– but in the intervening years they’ve slowly risen out of obscurity, amassing a considerable following mostly via internet word of mouth. These days, original presses of their records go for hundreds of dollars online, and they’ve become a genuine sonic touchstone for a litany of young bands; the influence of their hazy lo-fi production and dreamy arpeggiated guitar work can be heard all throughout the contemporary world of indie rock, from (Sandy) Alex G to Girlpool.
Given their growing esteem, it was perhaps only a matter of time before Duster, too, would hit the 90s nostalgia circuit, but it still came as something of a shock when they announced earlier in 2019 that a self-titled album of new songs was forthcoming. Part of the band’s mystique owes to their rather unceremonious disappearance; to most listeners they would seem to have more or less vanished post-Contemporary Movement. But the truth is that while the Duster name was retired, the trio of musicians behind it (Clay Parton, Canaan Dove Amber, and Jason Albertini) never really stopped working together –– Amber and Albertini started the band Helvetia, and release most of their music through Parton’s The Static Cult Label –– so it shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise that Duster sounds like the band picking up right where they left off.
Their music has always been defined by a specific sort of fragility, the sense that everything could just fall apart at any moment. Part of this is due to their lo-fi recording techniques, cheap cassette decks lending the music an analog frailty, but it’s also something conveyed through the melodic qualities of their interlocking guitar lines and imagistic lyrics. A song like “Ghost World,” with its steady ride cymbals and subtle, melancholic guitar hooks, finds Duster doing what they do best. “I’m Lost” hits a similar sweet spot, its simple refrain (“Don’t you know I’m lost / Without you here / Without you near”) and buzzy guitar riff working together to evoke a ghostly melancholia. But they’re not merely retreading old ground here: instrumental track “Damaged,” for instance, finds the band a bit outside of their usual comfort zone, layering gentle, distorted guitars and tranquil synth pads over a Casio drum beat, the warm harmonies and unusual rhythms recalling early Brian Eno.
Duster’s fundamental appeal is summed up, perhaps incidentally, on “Chocolate and Mint”: “Want to feel it in your bones / Just close your eyes.” The best way to experience this band is to simply sit back and let the music wash over you, seeping into your body, and though Duster doesn’t quite recapture the ineffable sublimity of Stratosphere, one never gets the sense that the band is straining to do so. They simply seem content to be back, and the results are more than satisfying.