Spiderland by post rock band Slint is one of my favourite albums that I have ever heard. Ever! I don’t think that will change at all and it probably will never fall out of my top 10, which is why I want YOU to know about it.
I stumbled upon it whilst procrastinating doing History coursework. I was looking at lists of best bands by genre, and I stumbled upon an article titled “The Best Post Rock Bands Ever” by the culturemag.com. The first band on the list was Slint. The description about them read “Well remembered for the outstanding album called Spiderland.” An outstanding album by a band I’d never heard of? I had to check it out. 40 minutes later, I was left stunned. I had never heard anything like it before and being a musician myself it created a new way for me to look at how music can sound. I then immediately started listening to it again.
The dark atmosphere that hangs over the album is achieved by a cocktail of different components. The vocals of Brian McMahan, which range from spoken word to anguished screams, really make the listener tense and sympathise with him and the pain he feels, leaving you hooked on his every lyric. This feeling is especially prevalent in the track Don Aman. McMahan and David Pajo’s guitar playing is clever and covers a broad range of styles. Fluctuating between clean harmonics to distorted high pitch notes in Breadcrumb Trail to the lightly strummed riff played in Don Aman, the guitar work is mesmerising and essential to the whole ethos of the record. Todd Brashear’s bass and Britt Walford drums seal off the group and their musicianship provide a strong backbone to each song. The song which showcases this the most is Good Morning Captain where Brashear’s repetitive 2-chord sequence along with Walford’s jagged drum beat help to create a genuinely eerie song, drawing themes from Rime of the Ancient Mariner and conjuring feelings of isolation and regret.
All the tracks stand out to me, as the quality to really triumph over the quantity. Track one of six Breadcrumb Trail is a terrific start, featuring a harmonic verse juxtaposed by a soaring high pitched middle section which makes you feel like you’ve been shot into space. Nosferatu Man is moody and dissonant, blending the loud quiet dynamics prevalent in the ’90s music, but utilising it in a more stylistic way, paving the way for a 2-minute repetitive riff to keep you firmly in the song whilst building of the lyrics about castles and vampires.
Don Aman is the voice of anxiety in someone’s head when you’re at a party. The description of how the other people are looking at him and how he feels ‘like swimming underwater in the darkness’ make for really gothic and haunting imagery. Featuring just guitars and vocals, it’s evident how effective as musicians Slint are. Washer represents the teenage depression we all feel after a relationship ends. I say teenage as it’s very exaggerative and not pragmatic, which makes for excellent descriptive lyrics. The music holds off and is very sparse for most of the track, waiting until near the end to explode into a loud distorted force, which is very much in the blue print of any post rock song.
For Dinner makes you wait, rising and falling and repeating, this instrumental to me serves as a stop gap between the fourth and last track. The final song Good Morning Captain really rounds off the album and encapsulates everything that Slint are about, big guitars, loud and quiet moments, an excellent rhythm section, anguished vocals, this track contains them all and the ending is such a cathartic release of energy and emotion, it really feels like a natural end for this album.
The more I researched the album, the more impressed I became with its construction and production. The focus on narrative story telling in the lyrics pleased me as a college English student, moreover the lyrics being written whilst they were in the studio and the recording only taking 4 days, by relatively young musicians (each member was around 20-22) it’s hard to not be impressed by the record as whole. It’s also considered to be one of the primary catalysts for the Post Rock and Math rock genres. The record draws praise from bands such as Mogwai, Godspeed you! Black Emperor, Isis and also Indie artists such as PJ Harvey and members of the band Pavement.
If you need any more persuading as to how influential an album Spiderland is, take a look at this picture from Wikipedia on where the album has been rated in lists of ‘top albums’.
So to summarise, Spiderland is a dark and sprawling record, one that sticks with you after every listen. The atmosphere and dizzying emotions these songs create are captivating and powerful and it truly stands on its own ground when one thinks of a landmark record.
Words by Dan Grayer