Capsule Losing Contact

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When Duster were recording their space rock mini-epics on wobbly four-track in a makeshift San Jose home studio in the late '90s, it's likely they weren't imagining that their records would someday be fetching exorbitant prices and that a classy reissue label would someday issue a box set. No doubt they were just having fun making music, expressing themselves, and exploring sound for its own sake, but history has a way of taking strange turns, and in 2019 the Numero Group's Capsule Losing Contact was released. The lavishly packaged set gathers the two albums (1998's Stratosphere and 2000's Contemporary Movement) and one EP (1999's 1975) they released for Up Records and adds the Transmission, Flux EP, the Apex, Trance-Like single, and a handful of rare and previously unreleased tracks. The collection finally restores the music of Duster to people who can now afford to own it and every fan of slowcore, lo-fi space rock and unassumingly brilliant indie rock should plunk down their money and get this set. The band (initially the duo of Clay Parton and Canaan Dove Amber, which became a trio when Jason Albertini joined) were making music inspired by all those sounds but somehow separate from them all, or at least they combined them in a way that still sounds unique decades later. The recording techniques are mostly primitive, the sounds unpolished, and the vocals often mumbled, but every song thrums with buried passion and grasps for great ideas just beyond their reach. The early singles are raw expressions of their sound, scratchy and noisy with some shoegaze elements (especially on the song "Orbitron"), and their obsession with space travel already established. Stratosphere is a stunning debut album made up of 17 tracks of lo-fidelity gems that are melancholy and muddy, the songs seemingly rescued from under a couch and haphazardly reconstructed on cheap guitars at half speed. It's a perfect opening shot that served to define their sound in wonderfully understated fashion. The 1975 EP was the first time Albertini joined Parton and Dove, and the trio moved on from the bare esthetics of the album. They added new sounds to the mix like keyboards, drum machines, and more tape effects, while still sounding warped and recorded on a whim. Contemporary Movement was made by the trio as a cohesive unit and it's their most realized and expansive album. Albertini's drumming added a new power to the sound, and the songs also sound polished in comparison to previous works. Still scruffy and weird, but with sharper hooks and more impressive presentation, like a real band instead of a studio project. It's less magical than Stratosphere -- which is nearly perfect in an imperfect way -- but it's still some masterful indie rock. Capsule Losing Contact sounds great, looks amazing, and totally justifies the prices people are asking for the original records. Duster may not have mattered much at the time, but in 2019 they are close to essential.

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