Tundrastomper’s Psychedelic, Math Rocking ‘O’ Reviewed

Easthampton-based basement rock band Tundrastomper is an experimental psychedelia mutant grown from a vat of math rock that explodes into a storm with manic ferocity. There’s more than a glob of progressive rock stylings thrown into the mixer with the band’s new album, “O,” released on July 7.

Tundrastomper is a four piece group comprised of Sam Brivic on guitar, Max Goldstein on drums, Andrew Jones on bass, and Skyler Lloyd on guitar and vocals. The band hails originally from Ardsley, New York, but has made Western Massachussetts its new home, playing DIY house show venues across the region.

The record opens with “Myth of Slop,” which oozes a sense of disillusionment and frustration with the modern world. The music is angular, with heavy distorted electric guitars playing in odd time signatures reminiscent of Adrian Belew’s era of progressive rock outfit King Crimson married with noise rock. The rhythm section is like a well oiled machine – tight and responsive. Goldstein’s drumming is melodic and exuberantly playful, while Jones plays gut punch bass notes and bass lines that mirror Lloyd’s vocals.

“If I’m a cartoon what makes you not?/ What good is a ripe, but pulpless human being?/ When we live according to the myth of slop/ How sweet we find the gloriously smeared mess in between,” Lloyd sings with a high pitched voice slightly reminiscent of Elliott Smith, but with truncated phrasing.

“Or Something” is a song that starts off with a quick progressive rock-sounding verse that would be home on The Yes Album. The lyrical melody evokes a sweet sentimentalism that pull at the heartstrings with a nostalgic pining for youth.

“Isn’t it great and alarming too/ The shapes we fold into/ The shapes we fold into/ All the while, very eager to fold again/ And unfold in time/.” The lyrics capture a moment of realization that the moment one’s living now won’t ever be repeated and the “shapes we fold into” might not be for the better.

The first half of the chorus is meditative with bittersweet guitar arpeggios mixing with bell like chimes of upper register high notes, while Lloyd presents an air of regret tinged with confusion. The song kicks back up into overdrive, erupting into the chorus’ second half.

“Pyramid”is the only instrumental on O and is definitely a highlight. This song is the musical equivalent of being shot out of a cannon. Distorted jagged guitar lines burst at the seams with crashing drums. The song ends with the sound of breaking glass followed by delightfully creepy laughter.

A divisive song on the record is “Big O,” which wallows in a mire of longing, repeating the lyrics, “How would I ever know?/ I don’t know/ How would I know?” throughout the entire song. The songwriting experiment is somewhat of a success as the bare bones lyrics allow the listener to connect to the song due to the heart achingly impactful melody. However, the song goes on a little too long to the point that the lyrics start to become a minor annoyance.

O closes with “Circular Gaze,” a song that begins with someone screaming “I’ll see you on the other side!” followed by guitar call and responses – a distorted guitar plays punkish chords and is reciprocated by high-pitched electric guitar squeals. The song is segmented into slower sections, which at nearly 7 minutes long lends itself to an epic quality. This song is reminiscent of a more laid back version of Sacramento, California-based math rock band Hella.

One of the drawbacks to the record are the vocal melodies, which seem to slip away as soon as you listen to them. They’re abstract and twist in ways that seem illogical at first. You get used to it after repeated listens, but it can be hard to connect to them on an emotional level at times.

The songs themselves tend to blur into one another, but that’s kind of the curse of some experimental genres. It’s hard to balance complicated time signatures and angular music with vocals that will catch a listener’s ear, especially when thoughtful and intricate musicianship that demands attention is at play.

That criticism aside, Tundrastomper’s latest record is one that burns like jet fuel: with force that propels its listeners across sonic vistas that are both strange and a beauty to behold.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@valleyadvocate.com.

Author: Chris Goudreau

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