Water droplets became a soft misty wind on my long journey home. The forecast said it would be sunny, but it was apparent the sun was but a dream. I walk, red sneakers dodging puddles until I can’t anymore. The moments become slower and my mind becomes sleepy – I fall in.
Into the puddle, down the rabbit hole, I fell until I wasn’t falling anymore. Falling to where, I didn’t know. A euphoric place, a place one couldn’t speak of because no one would believe you if you told them. It was a place resembling a past memory – where my Eyes Didn’t Let Me Open.
It felt like a dream, only it wasn’t. I was inexplicably listening to Eyes Didn’t Let Me Open by Matt Stennes.
Winter Quarter has come to a close, but a new storybook has opened. I’m not talking about new classes or any of that bullshit. I’m talking about sampledelia, Matt Stennes, and his album Eyes Didn’t Let Me Open.
If you are unfamiliar with any of these terms, I think it’s time I let you in on the best known secret. Minnesota-based producer Matt Stennes released his debut album Eyes Didn’t Let Me Open in the Fall of 2021. The album falls into two subgenres of electronic music: plunderphonics and sampledelia. Plunderphonics is defined as a music genre in which tracks are constructed by sampling recognizable musical works. Sampledelia is similar in the sense that it is sample-based music, but it pushes 1960s psychedelia forward by using samplers and similar technology from the time to create more disorienting tracks. Stennes’ album pushes these genres forward, even if he wasn’t intending to.
“I just expected my friends and family to listen to it,” Stennes explained, regarding the listenership of his album. Matt Stennes is a college student studying in Minnesota at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He started making music in the summer of 2019 after graduating high school. Stennes recalled,
Obviously Stennes has progressed significantly since these previous endeavors. Eyes Didn’t Let Me Open is a concept album embodying a coming of age story; the narrative recounts the journey of unknown characters falling into the music and finding themselves trapped there. Fictional characters go on an abstract adventure powered by the songs and each one embodies these movements by using whimsical, childish sounds and unique samples to amplify the atmosphere of Stennes’ world. “I’ve always loved childhood stories like that and I wanted to channel those emotions and whimsicality.” said Stennes.
The album starts with the song “Down the Rabbit Hole”, a track that literally pulls the listener into the music, utilizing a cacophony of descending sounds and samples that seem to pull you down somewhere.
As “Down the Rabbit Hole” ends, the real story begins. Moving seamlessly forward through each song, Stennes pieces together a notional coming of age journey centered around the listener.
“It’s like you’re watching a movie of your past, only it’s a romanticized version,” he said.
Stennes expressed that he wanted to keep the album “emotional and flowey” while still emulating “childhood vibes and emotions.” This is seen and heard throughout the album various samples resemble deeply rooted childhood feelings and moods. The album captures the attention of your inner child with a mostly instrumental approach to allow the mind to go where it feels.
Piece by piece the story unfolds and the listener is taken everywhere and anywhere they can imagine. Stennes created Eyes Didn’t Let Me Open by sorting through hundreds of videos on YouTube and by sampling a variety of records from his personal collection. He made the songs first and then crafted the narrative around them, spending about 5 – 20 hours on each song.
Stennes’ process is wholly focused on the atmosphere it creates in relation to the story. When crafting the song “The Cave”, he explains that he started with a sample that featured heavy reverb andadded rain effects to emphasize the feeling of a cavern. He said that “the song gave him creepy vibes…like you’re lost.”
From this point Stennes wanted to piece together his story so he pondered, “how did the characters get to the cave?”
This question gave base to a chunk of songs that tell the tale of a long voyage across the sea – one that ends in a shipwreck and the eventual arrival at The Cave.
I like to think of Matt Stennes as a master puzzle solver. In fact, I would go as far as saying every musician pushing the plunderphonics and sampledelia genres forward are masters in this realm. Each artist is tasked with compiling through thousands of albums, movies, shows, and other audio elements to find the perfect addition to their songs. The search for these samples is an incredibly daunting task, making artists in the field who can produce an album – let alone one that tells a coming of age story – even more talented.
The sampledelia and plunderphonics genres have been rising in popularity this century, with artists like the Avalanches pushing popular electronic music in new directions. The Avalanches are an Australian electronic music group that released their first album “Since I left You” in 2000. The group has gained a huge following and have captivated many, including Matt Stennes.
Stennes was first introduced to these genres through the Avalanches’s Since I Left You album in 2000. He was immediately attracted to the music and has since been a huge Avalanches fan.
Stennes was immensely influenced by the Avalanches.
“People were commenting about me in an Avalanches sub-reddit which was like the biggest deal,” said Stennes, “for me that was like the biggest compliment, I was like Oh My God.”
Fan’s of Eyes Didn’t Let Me Open are being added on the daily, as the mysterious melancholy the album produces dazzles the wondrous eyes of listeners all across the nation.
Fan’s itching for new music from Stennes are in luck. A new album is in the works, but it is still in the very early stages. He describes the upcoming album as being “darker”, “creepier” and “more theatrical”. Stennes hinted at a nautical sea voyage theme for the upcoming album, but we will just have to patiently wait and see what our new favorite artist will create.
Layla Bakhshandeh writes for .WAV’s Content Team. She wrote the article. Natalie Rockhold is a part of .WAV’s Art Team. She made the graphic.