In late 2019, multi-instrumentalists Clay Parton, Canaan Dove Amber, and Jason Albertini, AKA Duster, quietly announced their first release in 19 years would be available in December. The band have never been a household name‚Äîdespite being a long-standing influence on indie bands across an array of genres such as slowcore, space-rock, lo-fi, or post-rock‚Äîbut with this release it is a great time to get acquainted. The same core formula of keeping it simple is still here: as stated by Parton, they try to strip out as much as possible while conveying the same underlying sentiment. However, the 2019 formula leaves Duster changed. If the band were slotted into the slowcore genre before, then this release takes the genre to new breaking points. This is a great thing, because like a rubber band stretched to maximum tension, the backlash from letting go is going to be powerful, but sting on contact. The experience is worth it.
Each member of Duster plays multiple instruments, constantly refining guitar tones and toying with recording techniques to bring forth emotive sounds from their instruments, and then further strip these away to get at a minimalist core that supports the music's original intent, allowing passages of silence, muffled static, and downplayed vocals to enhance the mood. Like their previous albums, they record straight to tape. The music feels wide and vast, flowing without urgency, sludgy, raw, solemn at the surface. Such stretched and meandering music can serve as a backdrop in which to zone out, but conversely, it can provoke a challenging listen when trying to get a handle on something that can easily be construed as laborious, repetitive and trudging.
This is the tension that Duster creates‚Äîthat moment the rubber band has been stretched to maximum, holding steady‚Äîthe receiver waiting, knowing what's to come: the inevitable sting of the rubber band's release. In the midst of that tension, further layers of sound build up emotional impact, delivering the sting. As an example, "Damaged" is a wall of noise with a marching drum beat serving as the song's foundation, while minor chord progressions, unique electronic and acoustic sound effects dot the slow musical landscape. The onslaught of wailing guitars and muffled vocals on "Go Back" create a feeling of ache, lyrics echoing a longing to return to what was: "I want to go back to the place / where everything was okay." Throughout the album, speed, lyrics and sound work together to communicate tension and sting.
Like the aftermath of a tensed band connecting to skin, Duster leaves a welt and a memory. The flavor of music and lyrical content may seem depressing. Any listener of Unknown Pleasures knows the feeling of cold, brought out by Martin Hannett's now-familiar production techniques. Duster on the other hand have crafted music that feels warm, comforting and connecting, relatable on a human level, while not forgetting that humanity can be depressing. The brief and gorgeous closer "The Thirteen" drives this home in relatively few lyrics: "The simple things are haunting me / All the steps are incomplete." What does it mean? Perhaps it means the simplest questions are the most difficult to answer, and figuring out this thing called life has no rhyme nor reason. Maybe we're all just taking incomplete steps to get through it. The beauty of Duster's music is that it challenges listeners sonically and lyrically to come to their own conclusions about the content.