Duster - Stratosphere
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Duster
Stratosphere
(UP)

Stratosphere is probably one of the most apt titles I could think of naming this album after listening to it. While there is a smidge of some upper-Northwest sound in that of Duster (bits of disembodied 764-Hero drift through along with discarded soaks of guitar by Built To Spill), this disc works lo-fi indie, drone, and quiet, melodious guitar rock into some sort of psychedelic slow-core with moments of rock to keep you from drifting off.

For some, the actual issue of the recording (done on 2 and 4-tracks) may be off-putting. While there is a lot of tape hiss and other little static bits (most of which seem to have been planned by the group), it just sort of adds to the lower atmosphere sounds that the group seems to be shooting for with the release. I mean, they even named their studio "low earth orbit." That should tell you something right there.

The disc opens up with the track "Moon Age" that runs just over a minute long and offsets a droning organ with some very slight percussion and little tones that sound like sonar pings cutting through the haze. The second track "Heading For The Door" moves into more of a song-oriented groove with jangling guitars and some actually drumming, but the breathy, vocals and shimmering cymbals keep the track from really gaining any solid rock foothold. One of the funniest (intentional or not) parts on the entire disc comes on the languid fourth track "Topical Solution" when the chorus of "Rock out, walk out" is repeated over a track that is paced at about the speed of something Low would do.

The album moves along at sort of a back and forth pace throughout (including the droning, fuzz-fest of the title track "Stratosphere"), and although there are quite a few tracks where they're mellow-mellow, they kick off the cobwebs for some of the best tracks on the release. "Docking The Pad" finds both the pace of the song and the guitar output elevated just enough to put a tap in the step while "Echo, Bravo" starts off with a screech of feedback and some echoed drums before things come together and the song actually and truly rocks out with some guitar crunch. Despite the title that would possibly conjure up images of drifting, "Earth Moon Transit" is another great track where the group turns up the volume and combines dual guitars, drums and light vocals into something not unlike a indie-rock My Bloody Valentine. Overall, the group is quite unlike any of the other groups on the UP roster, although little elements of a couple other bands are noticible. It's alternately rocking and sedate over the course of 17 tracks and 54 minutes, but it's a good listen if you can get through the recording quality issues.

rating: 710
Aaron Coleman 2003-06-19 00:00:00