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Duster – Stratosphere

Why Duster? Out of all the long-forgotten bands that have become casualties to the endless churning of time, why Duster? As old records go out of print and labels go into administration, why Duster? As band members find other occupations and equipment gets placed into storage or even sold, why Duster? All these years later, it’s easy to wonder why a band you hadn’t heard of before 2017 has suddenly teleported from their garage in the late 90s to become a growing household name in modern alternative rock. So then, why Duster?

I personally don’t have the answers to mathematically explain Duster’s impossible resurgence from the depths of obscurity because I simply wasn’t aware of the band until they’d already returned. In fact, I doubt anyone fully understands exactly how it came to happen, but that just adds to the mythology and makes it all the more interesting for anyone even moderately invested in the group. What I do suspect though, is that the fans were paramount to the equation. Without fans, you wouldn’t be able to drive out of print records upwards to values that are hundreds of dollars more than their original worth. Without fans, you wouldn’t have Numero Group funding a massively successful deep-dive to restore and reissue the band’s entire catalogue. Without fans, you certainly wouldn’t have people telling their friends to try listening to a Duster record sometime. Without fans, there would be no one to post about Duster on some niche slowcore message board. Because word of mouth, especially when passionate, is everything. Nonetheless, a loyal fanbase doesn’t just appear out of nowhere and it can be even more of a rare occurrence for a fanbase to promote and stick by a band long after they’ve disappeared, especially with no promise of any new music. Duster did have such a fanbase however, and it’s simply because their music is incredible.

The fullest and most natural incarnation of the band’s hazy, nostalgia-drenched sound is found on their debut record, Stratosphere. Here, long repetitive chords and awkward, poetic vocals stumble around, soundtracking a metaphoric journey into the cosmos that is really nothing more than a drunk walk home on a rainy night, only to fall asleep on a cozy couch in the living room. Duster implicitly suggest, that despite this, a too-long cumbersome stumble home doesn’t have to mean anything less than a journey to outer space. It’s the celebration of mediocrity that gives Stratosphere such an ironically down-to-earth personality and helps find its base with a wide audience of everyday individuals. The songs on Stratosphere range from short guitar-riff driven pieces like Inside Out and Gold Dust, that aimlessly search for the setting sun, to truly sparse, enchantingly slow fills seen on Constellations and Shadow of Planes. There are also more typical indie-rock jams such as Heading for The Door and Earth Moon Transit, with the band sounding more like a full group on these songs than something that could be the work of one man in his bedroom.

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The standout tracks on the record manage to combine elements of all of these into different passages to make for very well-rounded depth. Echo Bravo crashes onwards and onwards with cymbals enveloping the soundscape before feedback-heavy guitars take flight towards the end of the song. The title track takes this feedback one step further, creating a heavily cacophonous layer of noise that drowns out everything apart from a simple drum fill that keeps the song pulsating until its finish. Finally, there’s Reed to Hillsbrough which expertly transitions between its slower vocal-focussed sections and some noisier guitar interludes. The intricate segment that begins after Amber coos ‘Everything is not so bad,’ features the most beautiful guitar work on the album and is one of my favourite musical moments in general.

With Duster having just released an excellent self-titled new album that’s as true to their original material as any of the greatest comeback albums, even touring for the first time in many years, there’s never been a better time to get into the band. Getting lost in their sublime back-catalogue, particularly, but certainly not limited to Stratosphere, is an incomprehensibly rewarding experience for some of the most gorgeous, spacey and warm guitar meditations ever put to tape. So why Duster then? Listening to Stratosphere on repeat while lying down on a grassy hill in the warm sunshine and getting lost in the shapes of the clouds as they drift by, it’s really not hard to see why.

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