by Thrin Vianale (@windedfl)
This past July, Western Massachusetts’s Tundrastomper released their experimental cassette For Steffen Only, a tumultuous, glittering, pummeling, and yet soothing collection of archived live recordings, demos, found sounds, and lush instrumentation. Lore has it that it was only intended for the listening experience of one person, Steffen, a fan of the group hailing from across the pond. Steffen has purchased every item of merchandise that the group has ever made, and after soliciting the group for more ways to listen to their music, this release was born. It was so well liked by the group that they decided to release it via digital platforms for listening everywhere, and via cassette on Sad Cactus Records for purchase.
The album is divided into two sides, A and B, totaling at 24 minutes and 20 seconds. Right out of the gates, Side A explodes into a chopped up rendition of the group rehearsing a song, à la The Books in arrangement, with a cacophony of severed vocal and reversed cymbals, and finds its way into a cloud of guitar distortion and drum rolls. It mirrors that feeling of confused anger when you wake up and immediately hit your head on something. At 2:02, it shoves its way into a moment of mathy jizz-jazz, before plunging you into a gorgeous, ambient segment with distant, echoing vocals. Like when you see something beautiful in a moment of particular anguish- your brain doesn’t know what to do, but it’s an intense personal experience that transcends everything. At 4 minutes, you find yourself in a very light-filtering-through-the-trees-moment of layered classical sounding guitar, and then boom, you’re catapulted into another series of clips and found sounds with varying styles, dynamics, and tones. A woman’s compressed voice guides a vocal lesson, countered with swelling ambient noise, arhythmic drum hits and rolls, little spurts of distorted guitar. This extends for several minutes, as the sound clips of the group playing accent the more intense moments of the sound clip.
Side B equally jolts in like a just-kicked hornet’s nest- broken only by an organ right before a Nintendo-esque synth butts in to release the track into a full blown meltdown. In the words of Harry from the iconic YouTube video 1 GRAM DAB CHALLENGE!!, “this is major”. I am a sucker for reversed guitars and my thirst for it is quenched in this part of the album. What really makes this release for me is the moments of tiny repose intercut with moments of untamed aggression. In one particular part, as aforementioned, you can discern a woman’s voice guiding a lesson on vocal instruction, which is backed by the group’s instrumentation. The dialogue being spoken, buttressed by the original music creates a serene yet subtly jarring juxtaposition of qualities in the track. The subtleties of the music and tonal shifts created by the sound clips are so well balanced against each other that you truly never know where it will twist and turn. At times it goes completely unhinged, but then counters itself with moments of artful control and pensiveness that inject beauty into the chaos.
The fact that this collection exists I believe also speaks to the greater perspectives of the band members themselves; as an outside observer, I found in this record an intense devotion to the craft of creating an experience in an album in the arrangement itself, and also the group’s devotion and humbleness in their approach to the people who care about their music. This release clearly took deft experience to produce, and the recordings themselves provide such a wonderfully varied listening experience that it was impossible for me to stop listening to. I can’t think of many bands, if any, who would devote such energy in producing a record directed by the suggestion of one admirer. That truly inspires me and is a detail I believe should not be overlooked in listening to this release. For Steffen Only gives you not only a exceptional listening experience, but creates also a storybook of the band’s time together composing, their inspirations, laughs, screams, conversations, and life experiences together as people. A truly delightful listen for audiophiles and fans of experimental math rock, and anyone who wants to be immersed in the rawness of a band’s writing process.