Album #34: Duster – Stratosphere

  • Released: 1998
  • Origin: San Jose, California, USA
  • Label: Up
  • Best Track: Earth Moon Transit

While listening to Codeine on YouTube last week, as soon as the album finished, the site took me straight to a video of Duster’s 1998 debut Stratosphere. I’m still feeling a bit “slowcore” in this ongoing winter, particularly given Britain has been hit by one of the worst storms I’ve ever seen this weekend. So I thought, why not?

This was the first of three full-length Duster albums to date, They split up in 2001 shortly after releasing second album Contemporary Movement, but reformed in 2018 and released a self-titled third album last year.

I will check all three of them out, because I rather like this record. It’s not exactly in the same vein as Codeine, or the two other bands I most associate with slowcore – Low and Red House Painters. It’s a bit livelier and pacier, but it is without doubt a moving and atmospheric album.

I’d also say the second half of it is stronger than the first. It plods along pleasantly enough until the captivating 12th track (‘Stratosphere’), immediately followed by the superb ‘Reed to Hillsborough’. My favourite track though is not until the 15th , where ‘Earth Moon Transit’ becomes an instant shoegaze classic. Well, as instant as it can be when I’m hearing it 22 years after its release!

I love the last two tracks as well – the scuzzy, fluff-on-the-needle sound of ‘The Twins/Romantica’ and the short but sweet closer ‘Sideria’, where synthy shuffles give way to a drone of chiming bells.

Well worth a listen, this. A bit of a lost gem of the late ’90s.

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