Duster | Duster | (Muddgutts)
Four out of Five stars.
San Jose slowcore legends Duster return to the fold with their new self-titled album, the band’s first release in nearly two decades.
While it has been 19 years since Duster released their second and final album, Contemporary Movement, in many ways it feels like the music never stopped. The members, multi-instrumentalists Clay Parton and Canaan Dove Amber, and drummer Jason Albertini, have stayed connected over the years and continued to work together in different capacities. Albertini formed Helvetia after Duster’s dissolution, where he frequently collaborated with Amber. Their first six releases came via Parton’s The Static Cult Label. They were a tight-knit group.
Albertini later had a stint as the bass player for fellow 90s rock luminaries Built to Spill, where he and Steve Gere filled out the rhythm section after the departure of Brett Nelson and Scott Plouf. When their time in Built to Spill ended, Gere joined Duster as their touring drummer for their reunion dates while Albertini took over bass duties.
When the band announced they were “recording a little bit” on instagram in 2018, fans were elated by photos of vintage equipment. Duster was back and their organic, lofi charm was uncompromised. However in an interview Parton warned fans that the band’s upcoming release might not please everyone.
“We are very aware that a lot of people that only like ‘Stratosphere’ are not interested in what we have to offer now,” he said. “Those people should check back in another couple decades, maybe they’ll be ready for the 2019 stuff in 2040 when we’re all dead.”
It’s true that Duster’s new self-titled album doesn’t have the unrepeatable energy of their debut LP Stratosphere, or the heavy, mythical reputation of their classic output, rescued from two decades of record store obscurity. But Duster’s self-titled effortlessly finds its place in the band’s now legendary discography.
Recorded live in Patron’s garage the album almost sounds like it could be a time capsule rescued from 2001. It certainly has all the hallmarks of a classic Duster album — the vocals sit low in the mix, every bass note is thunderous and deliberate, the songs are still open and vague even when they’re being direct, and a thick layer of fuzz permeates the album. Actually I don’t think Duster was ever quite this fuzzy.
The fuzz peaks during the feedback drenched “Damaged” and “Go Back”. Sandwiched between them is the gorgeous and hazy “Letting Go,” one of two tracks the band shared prior to its release. Other album highlights include the dark and driving “Ghost World,” the warm and delicate “Hoya Paranoia,” and spacey opener “Copernicus Crater,” which the band released last Halloween. “Shy for the shadows / like you’ve been here before / can’t find a place in this world / you don’t belong, moon child.”
Make no mistake, there is a marked growth in these 12 tracks beyond the fuzz. Duster is the band’s most sonically ambitious record to date and they have learned more than a few tricks in their time apart.
Parton recently labeled the band as “experimental depressed music,” which is probably a more accurate description of the band at this point than “slowcore”. Duster have finally found their audience in 2019, and their self-titled album shows that the band still has a lot left up their sleeve.