I was 4 years old in 1998.
Duster. A name you may know. A name many don’t. Stratosphere. An album some cherish.
Duster has been a relatively hush-hush band in the terms of adoration and appreciation in most circles. (I’ve only heard from two people who can say that they know and love this album. Maybe I don’t get out often.) But maybe it’s something else, maybe it’s the fact that Duster is a mostly particular band. Particular – in the sense that you have to enjoy “slowcore” or “lo-fi” to really hear about this. It’s a kind of album that you hold dear to yourself. It’s the perfect introspection album, an album to dawdle your own personal feelings over. It’s not necessarily a soundtrack that could fit any situation, but more often than not, Stratosphere finds a way to mean something always.
I’ll come right out of the gate. Stratosphere is a special album. It wanders aimlessly (a positive trait) and quietly sneaks a hefty amount of melodies that could put many to sleep. But Duster managed to create something that sounds very gripping, something that slowly sneaks up on you with a offer of a handshake, then manages to have sex with you by the end of the night. Something you’d never expect. Qualities of this album range from dreary and morose to emotional and spacious. It manages to unfurl and retract throughout, like a caterpillar, taking its time and life to live. Stratosphere isn’t a conundrum – it’s a exercise in exploration.
There’s seventeen tracks, ranging from ambient bits to fully realized songs. The production varies – it manages to worm around in a clear or fuzzy way, but never one way or the other for long. It’s not so much about the song; it’s definitely about the album. It seems alien with every listen, or in a more positive light, it manages to sound constantly fresh, no matter how often you may spin it over and over. Songs, like the title track, can seem up front and powerful. “Stratosphere” hums and sings with a constantly fuzzy ambient note while a thunderous, fuzzy drum beat powers over, as if it didn’t have a place, but fits just fine. The very next song, “Reed To Hillsborough” has much more conventional/familiar tones, with multiple layers of downstroked guitars maneuvering along with a rare vocal presence. Duster utilizes a on/off switch with Stratosphere at all times, and they execute this switch at the perfect and most opportune times.
And it’s this on/off switch that really works for Stratosphere, especially. Duster maintain this constant change and evolution to the sound, leaning one way, but never forgetting the other side. It’s staring at the sky and being amazed at the stars, but also realizing that the stars don’t mean a damn thing to you, as a human being. They are simply a cosmic painting you notice from time to time. Balancing reality with a dream world, Duster find this middle ground and expound on these tracks with a feeling of abandonment or loneliness. A subtle earthquake. A gargantuan insignificance… A remarkable moment. 10/10.