In celebration of the new remastered reissue of Slint's classic second, and final, album, Spiderland, we gathered some of Echoes & Dust's foremost post-rock lovers, who had, bar one, never heard the album, to offer their thoughts on what is widely considered the genre's foundation stone...
So Spiderland by Slint is kind of a big deal, right? The first ever post-rock record, that's how the story goes. Turns out I've never listened to it until now. It is heavy... and not in a traditional way (all big guitars and shouting) but in an emotional way. That's not to say there are no big guitars or shouting, but the hollow distortion on 'Don, Aman' provides sweet relief from the creeping dramatic tension of the rest of the track, despite being largely alone in the mix, and you have to wait to the very end of the record for 'Good Morning, Captain's haunting closing screams.
'Washer' pulls a similar trick over the best part of nine minutes of building and building the tension, heartbreakingly beautiful, barely there guitar melodies crawling over each other to a brief respite of, you know, rock music. The aptly titled 'Breadcrumb Trail' sets the scene of dramatic, mesmerising repetition, punctuated by bursts of feedback and largely spoken lyrics. The way that 'Nosferatu Man' revels in blissful, nothing-else-matters nihilistic riffing in its second half still sounds like the future. A frightening dystopian future, but the future nonetheless.
I guess this is the point: if Spiderland's legacy is as the First Ever Post Rock album, it certainly makes sense. Post-rock nowadays brings to mind loud QUIET loud riffs behind banks and banks of pedals. It's hardly post- anything, but here Slint are playing with the traditional rock band template and making something else. It's exciting, Christ, at points it's terrifying. This is a palpably cathartic record born out of sheer inspiration, creativity and a restless dissatisfaction with rock music. Rip it up and start again, as it were, but in a black t-shirt of course, and whatever you do don't look like you're enjoying yourself.
~ Andy Vine
I had never listened to a Slint album before, despite the fact that at one time a reviewer compared one of my songs with 'Good Morning, Captain'. So, when the editors at Echoes and Dust offered me the chance to listen to an advance copy of the re-mastered (and extended) Spiderland, I pounced.
For the last week I’ve been living with Spiderland during nearly all of my waking hours. Not because I had to- but because this album became one more piece of the musical puzzle for me. Much of the fuss about Spiderland seems to focus on Slint’s embryonic role in the development of the “post-rock” genre. I am always suspect to “post-“ anything. The best description of post-rock I’ve heard has come from The Antlers, who have described some of their songs as “music to cry-dance to.”
The thing about Slint is that Spiderland hooked me on several levels after the first listen. My very first impression was, “Whoa, these guys must have listened to Wire’s song Mercy a lot. A scary lot.” Which in my book is pretty top notch.
But as a I moved the Slint puzzle piece around on the post-rock puzzle board, other connections started to form. There were a number of people and bands that were doing parts of what Slint was doing at the time (and earlier). The signature guitar interplay between McMahan and Pajo eerily echoed what Verlaine and Lloyd (Television), Mercer and Million (The Feelies), and Moore and Ranaldo (Sonic Youth), had done. The heavy distorted vibe reminded me of Rage Against the Machine (without the rage- which was fine with me), Black Flag, Fugazi, and the Minutemen. The arrangements and spoken-word vocals drew me towards Pere Ubu and Patti Smith. All of these elements seem to gel on Spiderland.
Slint might share some common elements with other bands that were overlooked during the pre-Internet age, and I would not dare to estimate the level of actual influence others had on their music. But, if this album had dropped yesterday on Bandcamp, people would be all over it, because Spiderland has either directly, or indirectly, influenced a number of artists working today that make the music that I listen to.
It was all of these little puzzle pieces that kept me listening for a solid week, and I don’t have any immediate plans to stop. Dear Slint, Thank you.
~ Nat Lyon
The challenge with writing this piece lay in the concept itself - do people who consider themselves to be post-rock lovers and never heard Slint's landmark record Spiderland see why it is consider it to be post- rock’s precursor? Now, the answer could be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, for it is a landmark that we’re dealing with here and landmarks can’t just be dismissed with a one word reply, especially since the nature of the assignment required admitting one’s ignorance over the previous twenty odd years.
I have to say that as much as the record got under my skin, to the point I now can’t believe my life could ever go on without it, and as much as it undoubtedly was a milestone, it still lies very far from post-rock as we know it today. I know when Mogwai released Come On, Die Young, for example, the comparisons between the two records apparently sparked a heated discussion about an alleged likeness to Spiderland. Spiderland most certainly must have sounded quite avant-garde when it came out, purely because it shook up the traditional rock music narrative. ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ introduced the now iconic racing crescendos slotted between withdrawn, negative, quiet parts. The vocals were also far from traditional, with my favourite ‘Good Morning, Captain’, where a mumble explodes into the most desperate, longing cry. That alone however still didn’t bring to mind any of the contemporary post-rock giants.
After having Spiderland stuck on my headphones for over a month, I actually type these words with Come On, Die Young on speakers and I can see how the rules of rock music were broken by Slint - and indeed in academic terms, if we were to write a dissertation on their sophomore record, this is precisely what would be called post-rock, in the understanding that it’s something that came after a movement, taking said movement’s characteristics and applying a new approach to them - using the heritage to its full advantage, but enriching it with new elements and techniques.
However, compared with the more elaborate compositions that we’re accustomed to in contemporary post-rock, with the use of electronics, samples and even more intricate crescendos, Spiderland stands out as too raw, almost grungy. I fell in love with this record dearly and I see its relevance and significance and it will forever remain a crucial part of my music collection, yet from the perspective of someone who only heard it after being in love with post-rock, ambient and all sorts of experimental music ever since, it’s hard for me to recreate the impact it must’ve had today, when I don’t believe there are any rules in rock music left to be broken.
~ Magda Wrzeszcz
I'm the odd one out here, in that I've heard Spiderland before. Interestingly though, thanks to the seemingly never ending trail of people retrospectively applying the 'post-rock' term to the album, I feared I'd be the only one in this piece talking about Spiderland outside the context of 'post-rock'. Thankfully the fellow contributors here, all of whom I believe are probably greater authorities contemporary post-rock than I am, have not unequivocally adopted this, now traditional, line and see Spiderland as being more than just a precursor.
What really makes Spiderland so great, to my mind, is not who it influenced or what it started, but its complete isolation in the musical landscape. There are no other records that sound quite like it, and I very much doubt there ever will be. Spiderland marks something of an intersection between differing guitar music styles, but is part of a rare company of albums that cannot really be categorised solely as being part of any particular genre. There are discernible elements of other bands - especially the likes of Television and Pere Ubu, both of which Nat also identified - in Spiderland's approach but, crucially, Slint were capable of meshing those elements together into something remarkably individual. In essence, only the members of Slint could have made this album sound like it did.
What with the band's tumultuous history - Brian McMahan even checked into a psychiatric hospital after finishing Spiderland - and their mysterious, Cormac McCarthy-esque lyrics, it is easy to see why Slint's legacy has emphasised their influence on later musicians. It's the only way to describe them, to understand such an enigmatic, completely unique group of musicians.
Now, with this reissue and the accompanying Breadcrumb Trail documentary, some of the mystery around Slint is being stripped away but the intricacies of Spiderland mean that it will never truly go away. It is, in a sense, a record not meant to be fully understood, and that's what ensures that it remains one of the most important, and most affecting, rock records ever released.
~ Benjamin Bland
If you've never got round to listening to Spiderland, then here's your chance...