Review Summary: This is the antithesis to rock music; cold and calculated and bleached of all pretension, bombast, and traditions.
What is always staggering to me is when I stumble across music that is truly
original and completely idiosyncratic. When a musician can create a work of art that shows no logical connection to any other outside influence, while at the same time, influencing only a small degree of other artists (whom are consequently deemed mere imitators), they have truly earned recognition as the finest in their craft. Therein lies the conflict; the conflict between the neoclassical idea that art should be used to teach and enlighten us, and the modernist view of "art for art's sake". We often expect music to have a purpose; to be enjoyable to the ear, to be easy to dance to, to be enriched with lyricism that gives meaning to our lives in ways we can't as eloquently express. It's in this rationalization of art that degrades its excitement, originality, and integrity. If art is an extension of oneself able to express emotions and ideas that we normally cannot, then consider the fact that art is both the spirit of humanity and an inhuman entity. So, lets not give purpose to art, because things with humanly practicality are quite ugly and boring. Look towards the natural, the beautifully chaotic and purposeless. Look for music that is meaningless and inhuman. Look for "Spiderland"
, if you want something of the sort.
is one of the few grand contradictions in the musical world. Even though it has gone to serve a purpose and influence dozens of other bands in the "post-rock" and "math rock" genres, it hardly bares any
resemblance to those artists. Despite the seeds that this album planted, nobody knows much about the serfs whom toiled to ensure that a seasonal crop of artists would appear every so often in the outer echelons of the music world. Who are these four men who grace the stark album cover? Where do they come from? What the *** does Slint even mean?
What's in a name anyways? If you feel the natural urge to retrace the steps of these musicians in hopes of finding something that hints towards the genius of "Spiderland"
, you'll find yourself left with no leads. Slint's only other LP is merely a teenage jazzy tribute to Big Black. Dig a little deeper, and you'll discover the origins of these musicians connected to a band called Squirrel Bait. Again, you'll find nothing close to resembling "Spiderland"
. No matter how much research one puts in, trapdoors and dead ends is all you'll find. Even though it's hard to believe that these lesser equipped musicians could create an album with the exactness and immaculate originality of their more well known contemporaries, you'll just have to settle with the fact that "Spiderland"
will always remain a monolith shrouded in obscure origins. Like the Egyptians who constructed the pyramids, there will always be answers unexplained as to methods in which this catalyst was formed.
is a rabbit hole into a state of hyperactive R.E.M., where bleak vignettes paint an image of suicidal isolation that echo the work of outsider artist, Jandek. Like an abandoned cabin lost in thick woodlands, shrouded in a state of constant eclipse, "Spiderland"
is far from inviting. I first heard this album during my freshman year of middle school, and it took until my senior year of high school
to finally revisit it and appreciate it. My friend Jonathan once told me that when he first heard "Spiderland"
, he experienced motion sickness caused by the angular guitar lines and choppy rhythmic nature of the band. Indeed, there is no easy way to approach this album unless you've already incubated your taste for more challenging bands (and believe me, there aren't many). Melodies are broken up in ways that vaguely resemble the familiar shapes that melodicism takes; there's simply nowhere
for a guest to hang their coat. Album opener "Breadcrumb Trail" is as close as you'll get to a source of light in the world of "Spiderland"
. From the get-go, the bright harmonics that introduce the song light a match that will inevitable quickly burn out as the song jumps to squealing guitar noise, oceanic drumming, and Brian McMahan's piss-poor
excuse for singing (a style that ultimately works in favor towards the music).
Now left in darkness, with nothing but a faint trail of smoke left behind to carry you along, the album opens up to challenge pragmatic thought. The sinister and menacing "Nosferatu Man" jumps between shifts in time signature, bursts of noise and tightly coiled angular guitar, and carelessly speeds up all throughout its run time. The result is jarring, yet beautifully stark in how self-destructive the song is; cutting away at momentarily traditional melodies and momentum with eviscerating guitars and fractured attempts at beauty. Listeners will continue to get lost in the album's bleakness during the minimalist "Don, Aman". It's a ghostly song, that disappears like a smoke ring becoming part of the hazy environment. Scant traces of odd beauty waft underneath your nose, but for the most part, "Don, Aman" is deconstructed as one can to assure melodic integrity is somewhat
intact. The only human touch on this album is invested in the hauntingly beautiful "Washer"; a slowly crawling and numbingly venomous ballad for mental hospitals and rainy days. The guitar work is absolutely stunning
on this eight minute epic, and stands as the finest exhibition of musicianship in Slint's brief catalog.
Possibly the only forgettable track, "For Dinner...", gently glides and whispers; seemingly as a denouement to the caustic "Washer". It's a brief gasp for air, until the listener is inclined to helplessly sink into the soul of the album, "Good Morning Captain". Described as Slint's "Stairway to Heaven" (in regards to its nature as a magnum opus, as opposed to suggesting bombast on Slint's part), "Good Morning Captain" is without a doubt, the album's most memorable moment. The mathy and exact drumming paired against the impeccably winding guitar and bass lines is nothing short of hypnotic
. Soft and loud dynamics are expertly organized throughout the song, without sounding like any "alternative rock" song. Where "alternative rock" simply transitions from monotone to slightly louder monotone, Slint make it a point to implement drastic dichotomy, as they make leaps from barely audible mutters to explosions of violence; all of which climaxes into the garroted catharsis of the song's last minute. "I miss you"
bellows McMahan amongst a spewing torrent of guitars and drums, ending the album in the warm hum of feedback.
Slint are the masters of giving structure to formlessness (how a band plays music so wandering and yet tightly coiled to perfection is beyond me), and “Spiderland”
is an invigorating album for those who have lost faith in the staying power of rock music. Ethereal in its form, yet disgustingly human in its nature, these six songs are ingeniously introverted and truncated. The band’s confidence in these songs seemingly waver from one end of the spectrum to the other, sounding improvised until they make a poignant transition into something more emphatic. They fight a battle between intuitive contingency and orchestration with the weapons of feigned spontaneity and exact planning. I digress, least I give the impression that these four musicians are geniuses, because this is not the kind of music a genius could write. All of the melodies go against our own instincts on what sounds correct. Guitar riffs linger on for too long, the vocals are sung by a narcoleptic singer (making the lyrics almost pointless), and the drums, while precise, stumble about trying to exclamate and reserve itself all at once. The fact remains that this album’s influence is not in the music, but in its ethics. This is the antithesis to rock music; cold and calculated and bleached of all pretension, bombast, and traditions. It’s math rock in the sense that the structure for rock music has been reduced to geometric sequences, both intricate and confusing. It’s an album that doesn’t try to cover anything up. Everything is so unembellished as Slint weaves magic with no studio trickery. It’s the result of impractical music practiced by artists who have had all life drained from their body by catheter.
I could attempt to draw comparisons; King Crimson gone emo, Crazy Horse played by psychotics, Captain Beefheart organized into something that attempts
to sound conventional, yet none of these comparisons accurately portray the sound of this album. If anything, it's the result of fickle deconstructionists, whom after destroying conventions try to piece it back together with Scotch tape and Elmer glue. It's the bastard love child of Dionysus and Apollo; a cold contradiction in and of itself. If you grow weary of such feeble attempts to describe this record, allow me to summarize; there is no album in the world quite