Review Summary: Building blocks from the sky
The 1990s. An age of nostalgia, a golden age, a space age. Home of infinite burgeoning genres and bands. The ’90s witnessed hoards of independent musicians succeeding with the masses - some going on to gain more popularity at the turn of the 21st century, others disbanding before the new age. The ’90s also witnessed hoards of independent musicians creating fascinating, yet virtually unheard of albums that retained an amazing degree of obscurity in the 2000s. Duster was one of the latter. Formed in 1996 by multi-instrumentalists Clay Parton and Dove Amber, Duster showed us their own form of lo-fi genius with the release of Stratosphere
in 1998. Their debut was recorded on a four-track, a feature that gives it an unparalleled aspect of nostalgia.
Upon starting Stratosphere
, the receiver is lulled into a hypnotic state with the chiming and wah-ing of the opening track, “Moon Age”. This intriguing start is followed up by “Heading for the Door”, one of the more stellar songs on the album featuring a noteworthy chord progression. This track also includes plucky, phased guitars and muffled vocals, a recurring sound throughout Stratosphere
. The album is pockmarked by miniature tracks that one could consider transitions (although very few tracks are lengthy), such as the dreamy “Shadows of Planes” or the reversed “Two Way Radio”. However, some of these simply fly by in the stratosphere without any striking attributes. “Docking the Pad” is a prime exception, having a tense series of chords interspersed with little sections of wah-wah guitar.
is an album of polarizations. On one hand, half of the songs, despite being repetitive and simplistic, mesmerize the listener. On the other, many of the songs plod along and float away, accomplishing nothing. Tracks such as “Topical Solution”, “Constellations”, and “Stratosphere” seem to suspend the listener in the album's limitless vacuum. “The Queen of Hearts” trudges along with a simple arpeggio-like progression. There's a nagging feeling that these musicians are tired, and that lethargy was transferred into the album. Despite these moments of failed magic, if you absolutely love the sounds of Stratosphere
from the beginning then I can assure you, it will be love until the end.
With an artist like Duster, it is almost meaningless to discuss the musicianship. Bare drum rhythms, hushed vocals, and shoegazey guitars are to be found in abundance on Stratosphere
. But it is not about the simplistic chord progressions or the sparse lyricism. It is about the atmosphere – enveloping you, encompassing you, and truly taking you for a ride through the space age. It is about the stratosphere. After a year of living with Duster's debut, I am assured I know what Parton and Amber were striving to accomplish. They did not want to make an album merely about astronauts, space shuttles, or the sky. They created Stratosphere
to convey a life of the space age.