California trio Duster unceremoniously disappeared in 2001 after the excellent Contemporary Movement, only to resurface some 18 years later with just as little fanfare for a full-on sonic assault with 2019’s Duster.
But then shit went south. The band’s reunion should have sparked more interest, but the album was lost amongst end of the decade – then the pandemic hit, stifling their plans to do a full-fledged tour in support of it. And so it goes, Duster’s reunion was sandblasted down to social media activity.
This makes Together all the more surprising, and not just because it was released on April 1. With little preemptive warning, Together arrived with no build-up, a risky move from a band whose last effort was muted before it even got rolling.
Somewhere at the crossroads of slowcore, space rock, and post-rock is where Duster thrive, and what transpires on Together isn’t a revelation. This is, after all, a Duster record, and they are now four albums in with little deviation from the script. What’s expected is what’s received, but here Duster deliver on their promises tenfold; Together is every bit as meditative as Stratosphere and every bit as spellbinding as Duster.
Slowcore largely petered out quite some time ago, but Low kept it alive and evolved over the course of thirteen records. Duster didn’t have that time sadly, so while their sound still feels like it’s confined to the late 90s pioneer stage, the trio do it so well that it’s irrelevant what time period they’re in now.
The ceremonial glaze of opener “New Directions” paves the way for an album of transcendental noise courtesy of the dynamic multi-instrumentalists Clay Parton and Dove Amber, an often overlooked duo. Supported by Jason Albertini on drums, Duster’s second comeback album feels more established right from the get-go. There are fewer frills, but ample thrills if you listen closely. The steadfast lo-fi riff of “Retrograde” will put you into a complacent space, carefree and drifting.
Despite cross-pollination from emo, post-rock, and dream pop, slowcore’s a bit of a turn off for a section of listeners desiring louder music. Duster’s glacial pacing only subverts occasionally, like on the rollicking “Familiar Fields”, which bubbles up with a radio friendly riff. Parton’s vocals are the perfect antithesis to the aesthetic of Duster here, making for one of their more deviously portioned cuts.
Together isn’t a joyous affair, naturally. Parton’s lyrics reflect on monotony, hopelessness, and dread, but he does fancy a more upbeat tone than one might gather from the sound alone. “Sleepyhead” begs for more time, to bask in the comfort of the sunshine and warmth of a loved one.
As with most slowcore, the emotion is found in the music, not so much the lyrical content. Opting for instrumental passages like “Drifter,” Duster consume the negative space swirling around our heads. The minimalist “Moonroam” features two lines delicately woven into its 88 seconds, seemingly blending Parton’s vocals into the mix almost unrecognizably. Speaking through the instrumentals was a natural aspect of Duster, it’s something they’ve always done, will continue to do, and always do it well.
Just like those early 2000s Low LPs,Together will get chalked up as dull to the impatient and uninitiated due to its dense atmosphere. This is music for the mercurial bunch in need of a break from their own chaotic lives, who need to experience someone else’s even if it’s momentarily. It’s something the genre was intended for, and bands like Duster will continue to provide it for years to come.