Review Summary: Chilling, engrossing, unlike anything you've ever heard. A true experience.
When I first gave this album a listen, I just plain wasn't in to it. I was opening up shop at my job, going about my routine as the distant screams of Breadcrumb Trail's "hook" section assaulted my ears. Half of it was bad timing, half of it was not wanting to accept hype (which I perceived as pretension). Now, trying to appreciate Spiderland in such a casual context seems like an insult. Weeks following, the various tunes (or lack thereof) from the album haunted me. I couldn't get them out of my head. I think I was in love before I even tried listening a second time.
I don't know quite where to start on the analysis of this album. The tip-toeing guitar lines, simplicity-feigning complexity, evoke Television's Marquee Moon, while the sparse, almost tangible sharpness of the album's production harkens back to days of the British art-punks. The pulsing, pounding, endlessly fascinating rhythms hint at an appreciation of the German underground, and blistering fuzz trails ground the album amongst its contemporaries in the burgeoning grunge, shoegaze, and post-hardcore scenes. Despite the apparent feeds of influence, never let anyone tell you they've found an album that sounds "kind of like Spiderland." No. This is one of those rare albums that creates for the listener a world so unique that it will never be replicated. In a way, Spiderland inverts the kind of ambient sound-saturating of Eno and Klaus Schulze (that which My Bloody Valentine was busy drenching in glorious feedback), presenting itself as the hell to Music for Airports' sterile heaven. In place of ubiquitous warmth, we have cold sparseness, and soothing is replaced with that feeling of consistent tension when one is sitting in a slightly uncomfortable chair.
No vocalist this side of Alan Vega can make the nervous look over their shoulder the way Brian McMahan can. While Vega shook us with a screech that sounded like, if I may, a killer martian ghost dolphin, McMahan relies on far fewer vocal acrobatics to similar affect. Take, for instance, the bracing opener, Breadcrumb Trail. Somewhere in his deadpan delivery of the naive romance between a carnival-goer and a fortune teller, McMahan convinces us to question every single word coming out of his mouth, and the very images he evokes when he roars over the guitars, turning the ascent of a roller coaster into a rapturous cyclone of uncertainty.
The structure of the lyrics resonates throughout the album: no beginning, no end. We arrive, not quite knowing all the details, and leave before everything, or really, anything, is tied up. In the confusion, we are forced to grasp on to the small, otherwise insignificant moments. The child, white-faced, closes the blinds in the climax of the epic Good Morning Captain. In the end of Don, Aman, Don sees his friend in the mirror and knows "what he must do". We are left stranded, like McMahan's characters, helpless to the power of the jagged narratives. It's all quite off-puttingly candid and blunt, whether you consider the careful turns of phrase or the painstakingly placed slashes guitar. You're sitting in a room with a band of engimas while they tell horror stories to the music of a real life twilight zone. And afterwards you have to endure their stares while the weight of their words sinks slowly further and further into your mind. Do not neglect this album. Give it your full attention. You will not be disappointed.