Slint
Spiderland


5.0
classic

Review

by Alex Robertson STAFF
June 12th, 2010 | 86 replies


Release Date: 1991 | Tracklist


Interestingly enough, Slint's Spiderland is one of those rare agreed-upon classic albums that doesn't force me to start discussing it by instinctively informing you that all that can be written about this record has already been written. We all know that Kid A predicted the isolation and displacement of the 21st-century generation right as the damn thing got started, or that Loveless essentially introduced an aesthetic and took it to the outer limits, transporting the listener to a different world that, in essence, was not unlike what the band managed to capture on the iconic fuzzy pink cover: critics and fans alike have dug to the essence of what makes these records work and knocked these concepts around incessantly. So incessantly, in fact, that we've come to the point at which those who weren't around to first discuss them are left out in the cold, forced to reciprocate others' opinions and analyses or scramble for something unique to say. Most "modern classic" records have received this effect--read any modern review of albums like these and you'll find similar opening sentences: "what's left to be said about this record?"

What about this one, then? We've all heard the banter on how it was at the forefront of the "post-rock" movement, but any listener that goes in with only this knowledge will undoubtedly be confused--especially considering how completely distinct the band is from Talk Talk, the other group credited with anchoring post-rock. Plus, though it contains impressive usage of dynamics and irregular structure (which certainly help the music out), the magic of the album doesn't lie in its "prog" ethos. Another much-discussed aspect--one that cleaves a little closer to what truly makes the album special--is its lyrical themes and concepts, which mainly deal with isolation and withdrawal. It's true that the thematic elements are pretty essential to the album, but, still, there's a feeling with Spiderland that we, as simple humans, haven't uncovered nearly as much as we would like to have about this record. Sometimes, it's hard to believe this thing was even made by humans. Those four floating heads on the iconic album cover? They know more than us.

So, now that I've essentially admitted that analyzing this record is nearly impossible, I start with a question: not "what is left to be said?" but "where should I start?" Spiderland is a very hard record to take apart; it's like a very complicated piece of machinery, with many components and moving parts that all do their own little job. It's also, upon further inspection, a very sturdy and hardworking machine--hell, a nearly flawless one. So, with that in mind, I'm going to take an unconventional route: by describing a single song that perfectly demonstrates the power of this album.

We start with "Don, Aman". This track, placed in the middle of the album, is, musically, actually quite atypical of the rest of Spiderland (the most prominent distinction being that it features no drums or percussion). But, in the way it so eerily and precisely details the nature of human emotion, it's a fully realized sample of the album's gifts (which, of course, isn't to imply that the other tracks are in any way inessential). The track features a dark, spoken narrative, depicting Don, its protagonist, as he deals with himself at a party. Don feels alone in a crowd, his only actions amounting to "walking through an empty house" and "speaking to an imaginary audience". As Don feels embarrassment for his empty conversation and reduces himself to doing something as ultimately fruitless as taking a piss outside just to feel better, the listener easily connects with these awful feelings of isolation. Though it may be a large and sweeping generalization, I'm willing to bet we've all felt the way Don does before. We walk around parties, talking to people we don't really care about only to slip up and say something embarrassing, exiting the room with hands shuffling in pockets, trying to distract ourselves with anything, anything, to get these awful feelings out of our heads. We wade through crowds of people, make awkward waves to old acquaintances it turns out weren't even paying attention to us in the first place. We look around in an effort to look preoccupied, walk from one side of the room to another without purpose, see someone we want to talk to only to tell ourselves "oh she's talking to that guy and it would be awkward to interrupt her I'll just say 'hi' to her when she next passes me. Who should I talk to next oh I look like I'm just taking up space here let me look at the clock for a second okay now I'm looking at my shoes okay now I am walking just walk walk walk don't think did he just wave at me? I think he did I'll just flash a quick smile okay I am now checking my phone if someone walks up to me I can quickly flip it off and say 'hi' and maybe engage them in conversation oh my God I need to get out out out."

Spiderland is kind of like that. It traces human desolation with such intimacy and veracity that its power becomes overwhelming--not just on "Don, Aman", but all throughout the album. Extremely important is that, among the dissonant guitar chords and time-signature changes, anyone can relate, even if the story is about Don and not them. Compare this to albums like The Wall (which, I must stress, is still an excellent album), and you'll find that, though the albums have similar themes of isolation, the personal touch that Slint give their lyrical content makes all the difference.

However, to claim that Spiderland is a purely "lyrical" album would be to ignore that the album is also completely brilliant in the musical department, boldly staring down musical convention and uniformity. Upon its release in 1991, the amount of innovation contained within was unprecedented, a brilliant amalgamation of the rawness of indie-rock, the severity of heavy metal, and the unpredictability of prog-rock. Yet, Spiderland doesn't sound like a hybrid of genres but rather something new, a breed of dark, brooding rock music that wasn't afraid to be abrasive or even confusing.

Take, for example, "Nosferatu Man". Just as "Don, Aman" serves as a perfect example of the band's lyrical prowess, this track exemplifies their unique brand of discordant and scorched rock music. Right off the bat, the song features a dissonant guitar riff in 5/4, played in a way that allows it to be intriguing but not overly deliberate. Over the eerie riff, frontman Brian McMahan gives his characteristic spoken-word narrative ("I live in a castle / I am a prince / On days I try / To please my queen"), pushing the song from creepy to nearly horrifying--especially when the song turns into a thrashy crunch-fest towards the end. Soon, it's easy to see that the frightening nature of McMahan's monotone narration is not only matched but complemented by the music--Slint, with this album, made the brilliant realization that mood can be conveyed via music with more than just a minor or major key change. This is what Spiderland is all about: the band use their innovative "math-rock", their dissonant guitar riffs, their pounding and mechanical drums, their breathy narratives, and turn them into a chillingly atmospheric pieces of "post-rock" in the purest sense--which is that they sound like the logical extension of what we know as rock music.

Now, there are a few things that have been dealt with time and time again in discussions of Spiderland, one of which is its influence. And, yes, Slint's emotion-driven, angular form of rock music has certainly been visible in others' music since the release of Spiderland: from the precise crescendos of Explosions in the Sky and Isis to the unrelentingly atmospheric soundscapes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the album has been far-reaching, setting off a legion of imitators and sound-alikes, moreso than nearly any other "classic" album released in the past 20 years. It can be compared to the Velvet Underground's debut in that sense: in 1991, next to nobody heard Spiderland, but everyone that did went out, made a band, and tried to be the next Slint--such is the power of this record.

So, after writing that this record cannot be analyzed and then attempting to do so myself, where have I left myself? Where have I left this record? All I know is that, if I've left you wanting to listen to this record, I've done my job. Spiderland, indeed, is a record that speaks entirely for itself, not so much negating criticism and discussion as much as making it seem like a lesser form of appreciating it; something that only should be done when the record isn't on-hand. Trying to discuss the music contained within this album with only my little words is a little illogical, but it's the best I can do. The only thing more I can say is that these guys, these four young men from Kentucky, managed to spin their jagged guitar riffs, thumping drums, and murky basslines together to form something completely unusual, bleak, powerful, and yet, in the midst of it all, totally human. You can ask me to explain why I love it, or why it works, or the situational context in which it was created. Just don't ask me how they did it. Please, just listen.



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user ratings (1222)
Chart.
4.4
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other reviews of this album
1 of
  • Snoopcow (5)
    ...

    derho (5)
    Chilling, engrossing, unlike anything you've ever heard. A true experience....

    Andrew Kaster (5)
    This is the antithesis to rock music; cold and calculated and bleached of all pretension, ...

    bkahn (5)
    Spiderland is the Velvet Underground & Nico of the 1990's--it's influence on experimental ...

  • joshuatree (5)
    Dark and beautiful, Slint's second album is an influential classic....

    Ryan Flatley EMERITUS (4.5)
    The Big Bang Theory of post-rock....

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Comments:Add a Comment 
robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 12th 2010


15083 Comments


this review probably comes off as kind of silly

SeaAnemone
June 12th 2010


20970 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I wonder some times if this is my favorite album ever.

This review is truly excellent... you should really be proud of this. I usually read your reviews and they're great-- but this one's my favorite of any of yours I've read. I love the way you delve into "Don Aman," though I would have chosen "Good Morning, Cpt." myself. I think you may have gone a little overboard with the whole party comparison by the time you hit massive italics-- probably my only complaint and not a big deal really.

Digging: Viet Cong - Viet Cong

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 12th 2010


15083 Comments


honestly i think the reason i wrote that is that i've become bored of writing reviews and my 'i want to write fiction' instincts are slowly becoming more prevalent which probably means i should take a break, write some of that shit and then come back lol

SeaAnemone
June 12th 2010


20970 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

yeah, don't get me wrong, the personal writing is fine, I just feel like you get a little sidetracked here... and yeah, maybe that'd be a good idea

Enotron
June 12th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

It seems like Slint have an amazing talent when it comes to morphing monotony into pure hypnotism. The sound to me has always come off as being atmospherically dull, sort of swirls of grey. At the same time, the vocals sort of create this vibe of reading a really in the moment, over detailed narrative of an anonymous character isolated in the unknown.

But yeah getting over all of that, I love this album. Nice review, interesting analysis of Don Aman.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 12th 2010


15083 Comments


i think the album sounds like the cover, only if there was a tidal wave not too far off in the distance

but maybe that's just because i always have a way of connecting an album's sound to its cover--and if it had a different cover i would think it would sound like that, too. maybe not. holla

SeaAnemone
June 12th 2010


20970 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

one of my ideas for a 100th review was a 5 concept review for this based on the cover. it would have been awesomely pretentious.

Enotron
June 12th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I generally make that association too with albums, but it seems different with Spiderland. Like when you glance at it it seems
fitting, but if you really look at it it's just the four band members chilling. Idk, album covers always impact the visualization of
music for me, that's why I can't really do a list like Sniper's when he did color association with albums.

edit: holy shit I just looked at a really high def picture of the cover, i totally see what you're saying

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 12th 2010


15083 Comments


Spiderland, or, Rub-a-Dub-Dub Four Men in a Quarry

edit: also yea the thing that kind of ruins the album-cover association for me w/ this album is that
theyre kind of...aloof. smiling and stuff

but the most important thing imo is that the album totally sounds "black-and-white"

or something


lol

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 12th 2010


15083 Comments


[img]http://fubap.org/vladivostok/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/beatles_pool.jpg[/img]


Beatles: Inventors of Post-Rock? More at Eleven

Enotron
June 12th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

omg thats perfect

Enotron
June 12th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I bet there's at least one Beatles song with something post-rock sounding somewhere, but you can occasionally find any genre in their music whether it be noise, punk, baroque music.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 12th 2010


15083 Comments


i think the best case for "beatles inventing post-rock" (haha i feel ridiculous just typing that) would be "i want you (she's so heavy)"

AnotherBrick
June 12th 2010


9772 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

this album didnt do much for me i tried and tried and tried and tried and tried and then gave up

Enotron
June 12th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I suppose just due to it's elongated redundancy and it's dronology of some sorts.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 12th 2010


15083 Comments


dronology

Enotron
June 12th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

i see that word in every fucking post rock thread

DoubtGin
June 12th 2010


6754 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

best album ever when listening to with headphones at night


pos'd the review.. nice way of trying to show the strength of the album


and yes, Beatles invented rap too (or so)

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 12th 2010


15083 Comments


david pajo looks like he might be a potential hottie but i cant find any good pics of him really

eternium
June 12th 2010


16340 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Good Morning, Captain is one of the best songs everrr.

Excellent review.



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