by Jacob Kotler (@jacobcatler)
On their new EP, Clean It Up, Western Massachusetts’ Tundrastomper add an enigmatic and cheeky set of songs to their repertoire, adding lyrical and musical dimensions that can expand our understanding of indie rock’s capabilities. With an appreciation for the absurd, Clean It Up showcases a set of extremely deft musicianship capable of producing a highly expressive, fun, and manic sonic world.
Indeed, what Tundrastomper immediately present to us on the opening track, “Sweet Baby Boy,” is a group willing to utilize romantic harmonies and focused grooves to acknowledge the bizarre intimacy we develop with our cars. With sharp wit, Tundrastomper let us realize that the messy people feelings we attach to our cars--the safety, security, and nostalgia--veil the fact that we worship big metal boxes we don’t know much about. “Aren’t ya full?/You’re drinking so much oil/Where does it go?,” Skyler Lloyd sings to his vehicle, such a sincere and naive question highlighting the reality that, to most of us, these things just guzzle gas and say vroom vroom. Clearly, Tundrastomper present themselves as an irreverent bunch, willing to use their technical abilities to unpack such things like the state of our ridiculous-but-kind-of-endearing car culture.
And that type of tension underpins Clean It Up’s prog-rock leanings, the band flexing a hard-bop sense of melodic and rhythmic complexity to discuss the not-so-serious and everyday fixtures that compose our lives. One might recognize this songwriting approach as neurotic, as overly preoccupied with life’s small details, however Tundrastomper’s diverse musical pallet presents the group as having a magnetic charm. Max Goldstein’s slippery drumming jolts rich harmonies and timbres into a dizzying musical place, while post-hardcore breakdowns provide an appropriate means to illustrate the emotional breakdown that comes from one’s effort to eat scrambled eggs in peace, without the insurgency of a housefly, as captured on “For Flies Only.”
Certainly, it wouldn’t be too hard for Tundrastomper to utilize their talents in order to make bold and pretentious claims about the current state of humanity, instead using such impressive talent to capture the micro narratives that frame our lives as mostly humorous, silly, and full of petty anxiety. Tundrastomper, however, do not lose themselves within these trivial details, aware of the larger patterns that situate our late capitalist culture. On the song, “How Very Nice,” for example, the group warns us of how recycled cliches like ‘the sound of freedom’ play a role in producing boring, obedient subjects, ready to consume and avoid any sort of critical thought. Such observations actually contextualize Tundrastomper’s satiric worldview, allowing them to justify their humor and quirkiness as tools to avert a rigid, predictable, and stale life.
And so, although it may be easy to lose hope and inspiration within today’s dark times, Tundrastomper show us the value of developing a playful appreciation for life’s seemingly insignificant moments. Really, they illustrate just how exciting indie rock can be when we subvert cultural archetypes and stick our tongues out at musical formalities. Why take ourselves so seriously and devote ourselves to tropes that make for such a prescriptive life? By evoking such questions on Clean It Up, Tundrastomper reveal just how much fun can be had in-between the multitude of expectations that determine our lives, honing on such neurosis to write a set of funny, complex, and deeply imaginative songs. Overall, if it’s a more creative world we seek, Clean It Up shows us the riffs necessary to get there.