Willie Reviews Duster’s “Duster”

Willie Reviews Duster’s “Duster”

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Duster just jumped out of the suggested videos section and into the real world with their new self-titled album. It’s a good day for slow songs. Here’s RPM’s review.

Duster’s incorporeal presence has been haunting the internet for much of the last decade. Since the band’s disappearance nineteen years ago, legions of fans have discovered them only through their modest, but fascinating legacy. As one of these post Y2K Duster fans, I can say that I made the mistake of assuming I was the only one. Born out of the lo-fi and slowcore boom in the ‘90s but moving beyond that into seriously bleak territory, the band does loud and slow with impossible ease. Stratosphere, their 1998 masterpiece, is a slow-moving giant that feels like it can’t be spoken of aloud. But Duster has become (if ever it wasn’t) an open secret. They’ve been gaining traction for a while now, and this year’s compilation album Capsule Losing Contact on Numero Group only excited Dustermania. Yet when my annual listen of Christmas Dust was interrupted by the band’s first album of original material since 2000, it still seemed unlikely. Duster’s return would have to be just as quietly breathtaking as their arrival. I’m pleased to report that their new self-titled album picks up where they left off.

Open in Spotify

As a band with an unapologetically depressive sound, they have always excelled at showing a volume in their sadness. Whether transcendental, urgent, or just empty, there always exists a substrain of world-weariness. “I’m Lost” puts its manic crash cymbals way up in the mix, overwhelming a still-insistent guitar. The boundless power of this track, or similar “Ghost World,” reminds us that the band has a very different definition of “understated.” Hearing it on any speaker or pair of headphones, these songs sound loud, like they’re being fed straight from the amp into your ears without a reliable go-between. Of course they’re heavily filtered and mastered, but the sense of danger is real. The sparse “Chocolate and Mint” inaugurates each phrase with a chord that echoes out. Trading statements with the guitar, the misery in the quiet vocals echoes sympathetically.

My personal favorite species of Duster song is the driving, endlessly repeating kind. “Echo, Bravo,” my favorite song on Stratosphere, builds to a celestial climax and stays there. In the same way, “Ghoulish” is a special track on Duster. Especially toward the end, it repeats two three-note phrases again and again, twirling out in a way that I hope never ends, but it always does. Like their most famous landscape, they forgo landmarks and drift in an open plain. They achieve the same effect as ambient music despite being totally built on rhythm. The opening track, “Copernicus Crater,” serves as a reintroduction by way of repeating a single, singing note. Cutting deeper each time, it shapes a rut in which we’re encouraged to linger. Everything about the song and its fellow tracks is written plainly and barely disguised.

duster - copernicus crater

Still, after almost two decades, the band’s sound has changed for the noisier. Duster incorporates aggressive noise more frequently. “Go Back” rides in on a wave of noise that never abates yet never settles into anything. It’s a new kind of track for the band, and it’s a total success. Advantageously using crazy production is to 2019 Duster what raw chaos was to 1998 Duster. And much like the image of the cat on the cover, these songs are a happily imperfect representation of something. I wouldn’t call them any more emotionally clear than their predecessors, but without the veneer of low-fidelity audio and with different historical context, they at least seem accessible.

While it’s still mostly unclear why Duster is a band so universally loved despite  having such a low profile, this excellent new album proves that their appeal transcends time, nostalgia, and intriguing narratives. People love Duster because they sound like little else and they’re a ready reference for a host of gloomy feelings. This holiday season, give yourself the gift of Duster. And then collapse into a chair and stare off for a while.

Score: Taking an eight-hour road trip around the same highway interchange until it finally means something.

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