Stratosphere is the title track off Duster’s first full-length album, which was released in 1998 on Up Records. Around the same time the members of Duster released an album called Hier Kommt Der Schwartze Mond under the name Valium Aggelein, which has a very similar feel to it and is also excellent from start to finish.
The group didn’t leave much behind in terms of an online presence and its members don’t have too many credits once the group disbanded with the exception of drummer Jason Albertini, who would eventually join the lineup of Built to Spill. Duster released one more album called Contemporary Movement in 2000 and from the looks of Discogs you’d be lucky to get your hands on any of them but if you do and don’t snatch it up yourself please be in touch. On a side note, there has to be a specific German word for the feeling of discovering a group like this in the post-What CD era, as the Valium Aggelein material doesn’t seem to be accessible anywhere.
The Durutti column take their name from an anarchist military unit in the Spanish Civil War named after the Buenaventura Durruti. The group was originally formed out of the ashes of a Manchester punk group by Chris Joyce and Dave Rowbotham, who would go on to form another post-punk group called The Mothmen, but by the time this album was released the group had become essentially a project of Vini Reilly, who also gives his name to this album.
The original Durutti Column was one of the first groups signed to Tony Wilson’s Factory Records and they released their first album The Return of the Durutti Column in 1980 right around when Factory released Joy Division’s Closer. Though the lineup around Reilly has changed over the years, the group continues to record and perform, releasing Chronicle-XL in 2014 on Kooky Records.
The use of effects on this song reminds me a little of the Fripp and Eno records, and apparently Eno has said that The Durutti Column’s second album LC is his favorite album of all time. I found a pretty cool video of Reilly and drummer Bruce Mitchell jamming live which I think shows why Reilly and this group have such a sterling reputation as musicians:
This track might sound familiar to fans of Frank Ocean’s Blonde, as it was sampled on a number of tracks including Be Yourself and Facebook Story. It’s easy to understand how it ended up there, as Ross has been playing live with Ocean since 2012. Ross described the transition from touring player to studio partner in an interview with Pitchfork:
During soundchecks I’d always just start messing around and coming up with new little ideas, playing on the synths. He would come out and just start freestyling over stuff. I think that’s when we started first vibing together, just onstage during soundcheck. That was 2012, and then in 2013 we did a big European festival tour. After that ended, a week later I thought I was going to be home for a while and then I got a call that he wanted to meet in the studio—like a week after we got off the road. I guess those moments during soundcheck just stuck with him and he wanted to bring me in. He was super cool.
When I first heard this song I didn’t know about the connection to Frank Ocean, and I wondered why this person had only released this song. Since he’s worked with Ocean, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Haim in the last few years as well as put out an album with his own band Motopony, I guess he’s busy enough as it is.
Though it’s hard to tell based on how good this album sounds, this is the only recorded collaboration between Hailu Mergia and Dahlak Band. Mergia was a member of Walias, which had regular gig at the Hilton in Addis Ababa. Because of a military curfew, patrons of the Hilton bar who weren’t guest would be stranded until sunrise, though with Walias playing it’s hard to imagine they minded too much.
Dahlak were a popular backing band around the same time, and they hooked up with Mergia because other members of Walias were busy in the studio with other vocalists. Mergia was eager to follow-up on his the success of his previous record with Walias, Tche Belew, so he recorded Wede Harer Guzo with Dahlak in the nearby Ghion Hotel, where Dahlak Band were the regulars. The album features instrumental arrangements of a number of well-known Ethiopian tunes as well as original compositions. While Mergia asserts these arrangements were quite popular in Ethiopia at the time, it was not widely distributed and may have been remained a local favorite if Mergia himself hadn’t sent the tape to Awesome Tapes From Africa, who restored and re-issued the recording to its former glory a few years ago.
After putting out a few cassettes on their own, Houston trio Khruangbin released this track on an EP with the same name on LateNightTales in 2014, where it waited patiently for three years to be discovered by me. The group takes its name from the Thai word for airplane, which originally referenced the shared love of Thai surf and funk that brought Laura Lee (Bass), Mark Speer (Guitar), and D.J. (Drums) together, though it is doubly appropriate now that the band is split between the U.K. and the States. If you’re looking for an entry point in to the kind of Thai music they are influenced by, Sublime Frequencies has put out a number of great compilations of Thai rock from the 60s and 70s. Two good places to start are Thai Pop Spectacular and Shadow Music of Thailand. Khruangbin released their first full-length album in 2015 titled The Universe Smiles Upon You. They also put together a mix tape that highlights some of their other influences which you can find here. According to their website they’re playing a couple of festivals this summer, including Bonnaroo, Electric Forest, and Outside Lands. Because I’m a curmudgeon I won’t be able to see them live, but discovering this group is almost enough to make me take the plunge. Here are some links to purchase the releases I mentioned here if you are so inclined: