Album Review: Dust Star – Open Up That Heart

The Californian duo's debut album is a winning spikey-but-sweet mix of catchy punk and power pop

There’s a certain school of thought that we’re in the third coming of power pop. The first was the heyday of Cheap Trick, Big Star and Badfinger, the second was the 90s fuzzed-out glory of Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub and Fountains Of Wayne. This third coming has been spearheaded in indie circles by the likes of 2nd Grade, Young Guv, Mo Troper and now the spikey and sugary confections of Dust Star.

The Californian duo formed when Justin Jurgens (Sirs) and Cameron Wirsch (Porches) took a trip (literally and figuratively) out to Joshua Tree. That origin story leaves its sandy footprints all over their debut, from the psychedelic desert scene on the cover to the scuffed-up melodies that would shine through even the densest dust storm.  

Dust Star - Nothing In My Head

But while Jurgens and Wirsch clearly know their way around a solid hook, they don’t lean into them too much. Dust Star coat them in noise and dirt, especially on tracks ‘Nothing In My Head’, ‘Turn Up The Heat’ and ‘Get A Grip’ that are closer to garage punk than sugary sweet pop. The distorted vocals, tense riffs and doo wop flourishes of that trio recall the excellent debut album of fellow Californians The Soft Pack.

Elsewhere, title track ‘Open Up That Heart’ is a yearning major-chord love song that suggests Big Star if they’d doubled down on the joyous sound of Radio City, while ‘Work It Out’ has a glorious descending riff that sounds tailor-made for the stereo of a Trans Am. Even when they ramp up the tempo on the jet-powered ‘Back To The Start’, Dust Star are never less than 100% infectious.

Dust Star - Can't Stop Thinkin' Of You

The album’s standout moment comes with an unexpected change of pace and volume. The gentle, swaying psychedelia of ‘I’m Waiting For You’ takes power pop back to its roots with a Byrds-esque melody that sounds filtered through a hallucinogenic trip through the desert. It’s almost unbearably beautiful and fragile and a testament to the wide-ranging talents of this duo. Whatever they do next is going to be fascinating.

Open Up That Heart by Dust Star is available to buy and stream now. Get it here