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Album Review: Together by Duster


Early Friday morning, on April Fools, Duster released their fourth official album under the band’s name, Together. They formed officially in 1996, but Clay Parton and Canaan Dove Amber formed their chemistry in the post-hardcore band Mohinder in 1993. They released the seminal 1998 album Stratosphere, which has aged incredibly well and is an example of an album that has never been replicated but often imitated. Following several EPs with new member Jason Albertini, the band released Contemporary Movement, which brought Duster down to Earth, with more attention to songwriting than experimental noise-making, but still sounded uniquely and singularly Duster.

In 2001, though, the band stopped releasing music. Clay started a project called Everything Is All Fucked Up and What Not (Eiafuawn) that many have claimed as being a precursor to Alex G, while Jason continued with Helvetia. However, thanks to reissue groups like Numero (who helped me discover Duster back in 2018) and even the alternative scene on Tik-Tok, Duster has been able to find the support to reunite and continue making music together. They released their self-titled album in 2019 and have now surprise-released Together. This huge increase in popularity has made them one of those few bands that made incredible, timeless music that was swept under the rug when they first started, even though they belonged to the same label as Modest Mouse and Built to Spill and have been able to resurface with all members still alive and continue their moody, far-out sounds.  

With their newest album, Parton and Amber continue to polish and adjust their signature space rock, slowcore music without sounding like they’re just repeating themselves. Lyrically, Clay tells us that yes, he knows it’s sad, but it’s more absurdist than nihilist, so there is just a glimmer of hope. Instrumentally, I’d best describe it as a more distorted Contemporary Movement.  

The album opens with “New Directions”, a doom riff-laden song with edged vocal delivery with plenty of space between verses and bridges to heighten the impact of the noisy riffs when they hit. The next track, “Retrograde”, begins with a bouncy synthesizer loop, but then those perfect bass guitar hugs that is Duster’s signatures envelop themselves around it. Vocals are mixed much closer to the front than normal, just so you can hear Clay tell you that 

“…you’re not alone
Your friends are standing by
They‘re waiting for you back at home
And all will be alright” 

On “Teeth”, we trudge along an unassuming bassline and drum sequence. The vocals come in delivering surreal, liminal lyrics, and then the bridge hits, and the vocals get treated with just the right amount of reverb that gives me such a spike of bliss. The next bridge hits and then even more reverb. It sounds like a message from space. Another bridge, more goosebumps, and then a distorted to death sine wave floats to the surface while incomprehensible static fogs your mind, and the song pulses out on a decaying four-note line. Ecstasy. 

“Escalator” picks up with swathes of fuzz, then a synthesizer line, and then an acoustic guitar to provide the perfect texture to our silly little temporal lobes. The drums pick up about halfway through with a hammering eighth-note rhythm and simple but jarring fills that introduce the vocals. The music follows a dissonance, resolution pattern, and the vocal melodies are fantastic. It’s the harmonies on “Lost count / how many days in a row,” though, that give me goosebumps.  

In the latter half of the album, “Making Room” sounds reminiscent of early Duster. There are the incomprehensible guitar slides in the beginning, the pounding and distorted drumkit, the immense, earth-shaking instrumentals, and whispered vocals. It feels like a slow drip of a downer and your feet floating in the air.  

Overall, Together is still Duster. Unlike other bands from the ‘90s slowcore era like Low, who are going a bit further in experimentation and the avant-garde, Duster already has it figured out. If I could compare them to anybody in terms of output, it’d have to be Beach House. Both have already understood the sound they know and love, they tweak it just a bit to keep things interesting and distinct from their previous work, but inherently themselves. Unlike Low, Duster knows how to establish and maintain a mood for an album, which is the most important objective an album needs to complete.

What’s so marvelous about the band is how broad their applications can be. They can just as easily be used to be background music for a solo smoke on your screened porch as it is to soundtrack your frantic drive at 2 AM through an unknown city looking for an empty parking lot to sleep in your car. This is why bands like Alex G, Hovvdy, Horse Jumper of Love, Ovlov, and so many more cite them as one of their influences. So, if you haven’t listened to them yet, I beg you to do so, ok? This is one of the most important bands of all time ok. Love each other ok.

Be sure to listen to check out Brandon's show No World Is As True As Mine 12pm-2pm on Tuesdays! And learn more about him in his DJ bio!

Brandon Jolley

Transition from Latin to composed music. Trying to get ahead of the curve. Some of the most important artists are inspired by contemporary composers, Miles Davis and Stockhausen, Bill Evans and Debussy, John Lennon and Beethoven, Pachelbel and everyone who has used his infamous chord progression, and countless more. So, I offer this time slot as a study for what composers of today are writing for myself in my own works, as well as aspiring or practicing musicians in the scene here for inspiration themselves.

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