Review Summary: With their self-titled return, Duster prove that a few trips around the sun aren’t enough to keep them down.
Earlier this year, Duster (in collaboration with the Numero Group) released Capsule Losing Contact, a compilation of the band’s discography. A nice little box set for a band that has been growing increasingly popular in recent years. There was a time when finding a physical copy of a duster album was nigh impossible, since their catalog was only ever issued once. But with the release of Capsule Losing Contact, it was easier than ever to rediscover the band.
I myself must admit that I only ever listened to their two albums (1998’s Stratosphere and 2000’s Contemporary Movement) a few times before this year, but that changed with the box set’s release. I dove head first into their catalog again for the first time in years and was immediately rewarded with the chilly warmth of slowcore, space rock, shoegaze, and classic 90s lo-fi indie rock. It’s a sound that I never gave the proper respect that it clearly deserved, as I’ve come to enjoy those two albums more so than I ever did, as well as new appreciation for the rest of their discography. And when it was time again to shelf them and move on to other records by other bands, I felt more than content leaving them there. After hearing what was presumably their full recorded output, I could safely say that I had heard everything they’ve released.
That sense of accomplishment was short-lived, as just a couple of months later in October, Duster announced that they were releasing a new album. Not a compilation of old material, but a full-fledged new album. My immediate reaction was something to the tune of “how dare they?!” After all, I had just listened to all the Duster I had ever wanted to hear just months prior. And now they pull me back in again with the tantalizing prospect of new music? Unforgivable. But those (admittedly-jokey) worries subsided when I pressed play on “Copernicus Crater” for the first time. As the first single they released for this album and the opening track, it had a lot ridding on it. But you wouldn’t guess that from how it carries itself. Repetitious guitar and vocals hidden beneath a blanket of instrumental layers, it’s unassuming for an opening track for sure. However, when I started to infectious groove the song laid out. That’s when I knew they hooked me again.
With their self-titled album, Duster have produced a work that properly reflect their trademark sound while also introducing new elements to their sound. The most noticeable of these is the cleaner production. Comparing it to the rest of their work, this album clearly has a fair bit more polish then past releases. Which, of course, is to be expected. The hollow sound of ratty cassette tapes and broken equipment can rarely be mimicked properly. In its stead, Duster have supplemented their sound with fuzzier guitar and drums. And to me, it works to mixed results. Songs like “I’m Lost” and “Summer War” show off this fuzz-forward approach the best, emulating sounds from the band’s more rock-heavy early work. However, there are also blasts of straight noise like “Go Back” that border on excessive. The band has delved into these sounds on previous albums, but I was never really a fan of those either. Songs like these take me out of the album and work better when balanced with more traditional elements.
I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise then that I enjoyed the more low-key tracks here than the noisier ones. The soothing nature of songs like “Letting Go” and “Hoya Paranoia” were the definitive highlights here and are closer in nature to what I look for in Duster. The most surprising of these quieter numbers was “Lomo,” which featured a heavy focus on vocals and acoustic. It’s one that, like “Copernicus Crater,” grabs you unexpectedly through its stargaze-y beauty; another album highlight in my book.
It’s a strange feeling. Rarely do I prefer the slower songs on an album to the more energetic ones, but Duster have a way of flipping that preference. Sure, I really enjoyed this album through and through, but it’s those modest numbers that stick with me the most. Their “Constellations’,” their “Shadows of Planes’,” their “Breakup Suites’.” Those are the ones that I remember the most from their past albums and that’s what I remember the most from this album. It’s a testament to Duster’s distinctiveness that they shine the brightest when you least expect it.