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Duster review: The sonic textures are full-bodied and laboured over

Imperfections are packed into structures that are more comprehensible, and far less nebulous

Kieran Read
Friday 13 December 2019 10:09 GMT
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(Mark Cross)

Duster have never been easily defined. They’re too urgent for “slowcore”, too meandering and weird for “indie rock”; they’re cited as major influences on their peers yet remain relatively unknown, compared to old label-mates Modest Mouse and Built to Spill. Yet when all the pieces align, they sound as transcendent and otherworldly as the cosmos they’re so fond of.

Their self-titled third album follows a two-decade hiatus, and suggests a maturation into more structured songwriting. It’s an effort to sound more earthbound – 1998’s Stratosphere, considered an underrated landmark by the next generation of lo-fi experimenters such as Girlpool and (Sandy) Alex G, felt like channel-surfing different white noise frequencies. Duster, by contrast, weathers these sporadic shifts between crackling ambience and crashing noise, forming a happy medium that is maintained throughout. The songs sound like actual songs, rather than skeletal vignettes pulled from daydream states.

There are still moments of pure bliss, in the restlessness of opener “Copernicus Crater”; the anthemic layering of “Summer War” and the gentle lapping of guitars on “Hoya Paranoia”. The sonic textures are full-bodied and laboured over, almost as if those two decades were solely spent tinkering away in the studio. The trade-off, however, is that the tracks lack the youthful sense of exploration that made listening to Stratosphere and Contemporary Movement feel like journeying into a warm, fuzzy abyss.

For better or worse, Duster sounds as though it was created by humans. Imperfections are packed into structures that are more comprehensible, and far less nebulous. Each crackle, echo and strained vocal makes the limitations of being human seem not only clear, but beautiful in its vulnerability.

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