WXTJ Writes! by Summer DeLellis-Sturgis: “Duster Relaunched”
After narrowly avoiding oblivion, the forgotten band Duster has returned to the essential indie rock playlist. The obscurity that characterized the band since its 1998 debut album Stratosphere can be attributed to their scarce public presence and despondent sound, and after the release of 2000’s Contemporary Movement, Duster seemingly drifted into nothingness. Through digital dialogue within the online music community and word of mouth, Duster has reemerged in popularity within the past few years, culminating in the physical reissue of their catalog in 2019 by Chicago’s Numero Group. We can credit their resurgence to the millennials and twenty-somethings who intimately recognized the liminal spaces of Duster’s music and brought them back from the Void of Neglected Bands.
My first encounter with Duster was last winter when I heard “The Breakup Suite” play through a shuffled mega playlist. The messy and angsty refrain of “I wish I was a little bit smarter” stood out because of how disjointed it felt within the context of the hypnotic and somber melody. This effect felt deliberate—and the perfect ambience was characterized by how imperfect the lyrics felt.
Set apart by achy and strained vocals, Duster’s lyrics tend to serve as reminders of solitude within the generated celestial atmosphere. These vocals are grounding but incoherent, drowning in the murkiness of the music and pulling you down with them. The ‘human’ aspect is isolated within a sea of guitar strums and heavy drum sets, slowly spiraling into a numbing openness and desperately reaching for something solid to hold on to. The experience is intimate but relieved of any claustrophobia, due to the vastness of the melodic space Duster creates. It speaks to a comfortable nostalgia as much as it does to a future riddled with anxiety. This duality places Duster in the dreamy yet uneasy realm of space rock. Similarly, the line “so rock out, rock out, rock out…” in “Topical Solution” features a uniquely intelligible lyric within the song’s inherent fogginess, emphasizing the juxtaposition within the music and clearly spotlighting a stoic acceptance of reality.
Some songs are meant to be sung, screamed, and cried, but others serve to transcend formal boundaries and open up a realm of imagination and relatability in a more intimate fashion. Perhaps we relate to ‘good’ music within the spatial dimensions that sound creates, and Duster’s ability to transport us to our own chamber of reflection renders it unique among slowcore revival.
By Summer DeLellis-Sturgis, co-host of Cosmic Comedown
WXTJ Writes! is brought to you by a team of 25 wonderful writers. Our mission is to make our website come alive by diving even deeper into some of our favorite music — so get ready to talk music, media, entertainment, the arts, and read special stories told by radio-loving students every week here on wxtj.fm/articles.