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Duster’s lo-fi sonic explorations didn’t find much of an audience when they first began operations in the late ’90s. Their two albums and various other recordings were home-recorded, spaced-out, and just a little too late for the slowcore movement. They were also on the fringes of noise rock and emo, but never fully became part of a scene. Maybe that’s why once the group ceased working together, their legend began to slowly grow until by the late 2010s their long out of print albums were fetching large sums and quite a few bands were singing their praises. After a long time working on other projects, and occasionally together, Duster reconvened in 2018 to record new music — 2019′s abrasive, noise-damaged self-titled album — and play shows in support of the career-spanning box set Capsule Losing Contact. They continued working together to map the parameters of their sound, settling down in peacefully introspective territory on the 2022 album Together.
The San Jose, California band formed in 1996 as a collaboration between Clay Parton and Canaan Dove Amber, two multi-instrumentalists with a record collection full of slowcore classics by Slint and Bedhead, a penchant for rambling, expansive songs with mumbled vocals, and a fascination with outer space. Duster began working together in a makeshift home studio space they called Low Space Orbit, tracking on cheap analog equipment. The first fruits of their work showed up on a short cassette released in 1995 titled Christmas Dust, which captured their nascent sound in lo-fi fashion. It was followed by a longer tape release called On the Dodge in 1996.
Duster signed to Seattle’s Up Records and in 1997 released their first EP, the five-song Transmission, Flux. They followed that with a single, Apex, Trance-Like, for Skylab Operations, then began work on their first album. A friend of the duo, Jason Albertini, dropped in to add drums on a handful of the alternately glacially sparse and shyly melodic songs on 1998′s Stratosphere, which was released by Up in early 1998. Albertini became part of the creative core of Duster and contributed drums and ideas to their next record, 1999′s 1975 EP. The trio released one more album together, Contemporary Movement, before retiring the Duster name.
Amber and Albertini moved to Seattle, where they started a band called Helvetia; Parton started a solo project called Eiafuawn and a label to release works by both groups. All three musicians worked together — appearing at Up Records’ tenth anniversary show in 2004 — and apart; most notably, Albertini had a stint with Built to Spill in the 2010s. While this was going on, the legend of Duster began to grow as more and more young musicians and fans discovered the band’s records thanks to social media and streaming services. Demand for their out-of-print albums skyrocketed, and the Numero Group contacted the group to work out details of a box set reissue.
Somewhere in the process of digging through old tapes and getting the collection ready, the trio decided to begin recording together again. In April of 2018, they reentered Low Space Orbit to start tracking an EP of new music, and in late 2018 played a trio of reunion shows in Brooklyn. They headed back out to do a short West Coast swing in January, and the Capsule Losing Contact collection was released in March. It gathered up their two albums, the 1975 EP, singles, compilation tracks, and previously unreleased songs. The box set sold out quickly and Duster’s influence spread to a new generation of artists like Snail Mail and (Sandy) Alex G. The EP the band had begun recording expanded to an album’s worth of material recorded live in Parton’s garage that has the same understated, ghost-like sound as their ’90s recordings. Duster was issued by Muddguts Records in late 2019. The next year Numero reissued an album the band made under the name Valium Aggelein just prior to the 1998 release of Stratosphere. Titled Black Moon, the album was a sparse, spacy exploration of experimental music spurred by the band’s love of German music of the ’70s. The band were still a going concern at the time, though they gave few clues until the sudden release of their fourth album, Together, in April of 2022. Released by Numero — a first for the reissue label — the band were in a calmer, more introspective place than when they recorded Duster, relying on atmosphere instead of noise and drawing on shoegaze and slowcore in almost equal measure. ~ Tim Sendra