Review Summary: No surprises on a surprise release.
It doesn’t take long into “New Directions”, the opening track on Duster’s fourth album Together
, for the following line to be mumbled: “I’ve lost hold and become old and turned some dust to gold”. It’s good stuff, not only some self-aware commentary from an aging band, but also an artful reference to the song “Gold Dust” on the group’s cult classic 1998 debut Stratosphere
and an early acknowledgement of this album’s primary preoccupation: a contemplation of the passage of time and of distant memories.
Duster is one of those rare bands whose status has been enhanced by absence, with their first two albums becoming widely cited as influential and iconic during their extremely long hiatus. The band then released a wildly impressive self-titled comeback album in 2019 (their best work, according to this reviewer, although that’s a very controversial claim). And now there’s a fourth LP in the Duster catalog, Together
, a very real (but quite unexpected) release which came to us on April Fools’ Day.
Since this record was a surprise release, there’s a certain irony in the fact that the music presented on it is very typical of Duster’s ouvre. In other words, if you go into this album expecting songs that sound like default Duster songs (although with some higher production values than their early output), you won’t be at all shocked or disappointed. It’s all here: depressive slowcore vibes which avoid the more extreme fringes of the genre, an eerie sense of spaciness, and the bleak crunch of riffs which can, from song to song, sometimes lean more towards grunge or more towards shoegaze. As usual for Duster, this isn’t really an “exciting” listen (even if the guitar work is a bit heavier than usual in places), but rather a satisfying collection of well-constructed tunes with a notable sense of atmosphere. The album’s soul remains elusive, with the band carefully maintaining a sheen of ambiguity in their music, but there’s clearly a sense of restless, backwards-looking melancholy and loneliness which creeps in, illustrated in “Teeth” by the plaintive line “the stars seem closer than you do”. Or, as it’s put plainly later in the album in “Feel No Joy”, “time came and went”. Behind the hazy musical landscapes, whispery vocals struggle to get out their message, to express the inexpressible, all part of the peculiar beauty of the thing.
Although now downsized to a duo rather than a trio (Jason Albertini is not on the lineup for this album), Duster doesn’t move too dramatically in any new musical direction on Together
. This stasis is unlikely to prove too controversial with fans, as the band’s scarce output through the decades prevents their near-unique style from getting stale, at least yet. Whether one expected more Duster tunes or not (probably the latter), it’s good to have them. Together
is a finely-crafted work which should hold up to listening under widely varied circumstances, likely to feel as much at home amid the windswept, skeletal trees of late autumn as on the porch on a humid summer evening. All told, there’s plenty to rejoice about, the sad boys are back in town.