Slint: Spiderland

My young boys wake up early. By 6 am the three of us are in the lounge room reading books, playing with toys, mucking about with the iPad, while the mama is catching up on sleep after the night’s breast-feeding duties. This is the time when my kids are getting their musical education.

The mother of my children doesn’t care for The Rawk. She is amused by my love of guitar music and tolerates having the milder stuff playing around the house. But she doesn’t dig on Metal and her mood definitely turns when things start to get too heavy. I can get away with Radiohead, but Tool is a no-go area while she’s around.

Slint’s ‘Spiderland’ falls between the gaps. It’s one of the great loud-soft-loud guitar band albums. There are quiet moments and heavy moments, and they all live together in a delicate, passionate balance. I play it often, and I think I find something new in it every time.

This album is four guys playing intricate arrangements on traditional rock instruments in a seamlessly connected way. ‘Tight’ doesn’t even come close to describing how these guys relate to eachother sonically. The dynamism is orchestral in execution – the songs alternate between trickling along in a low and minimal way and blowing great bombast.

‘Spiderland’ is largely looked on as the beginning of the post-rock, post-punk movement. Since it came out in 1991 many fine post-rock bands have come up, and many of them openly acknowledge the impact this record has had on them. Interestingly though, whilst lots of the post-rock proponents can drive the listener to ‘crescendo fatigue’ – tracks that start slowly and build and build until they come to a momentous point and then fall over the edge into a cacophony of sound before mellowing out and going quiet again – Slint is characterised by fierce and fearless sudden drops and changes in pace. Nothing arrhythmic or jarring; it flows as if it were an orchestral arrangement rather than a rock record.

Lyrically the tracks are narratives concerning alienation: lonely sea captains, pirates, strangely unsettled loners in bleak landscapes. Truthfully I’m not much interested in the particulars of the lyrics. It’s more the mood of this music and how it carries me that I’m so taken with.

The drumming is what really gets me. Really good drumming fundamentally ties everything together at the base, and it’s a cornerstone of the sound of this album. You can hear this in the track ‘Good Morning, Captain’ – incidentally, the name of a cafe on St Georges Road in Melbourne run by some pretty young hipster things not afraid to wear their sources proudly.

The guitar sound alternates between big layers of fuzz and a needly treble that picks out melody over the big bass backdrop. The range means that the album is so intricate and nuanced and yet so, so hard. At times it rings with such a soaring intensity I can’t imagine how mind-blowing it must’ve been to hear these guys playing it in the studio.

People often label Slint as ‘math metal’ and write it off. I don’t like the term since it suggests that kooky time signatures and dryly precise nerd-musicians are all the music has going for it. There is a solid passion running through this record, deep and redolent. The quality and fidelity of the recording is part of this, I think, in that the breadth of the sound helps you fall into it all the deeper. The CD version comes with a statement on the packaging: “this recording is meant to be listened to on vinyl”. I always found this incredibly pompous. Shit, I still do. But now that I own it on vinyl there’s no denying how rich and full the album sounds. The dynamics have so much more room to breath, the juddering rises and falls resonate so much more for having all that space.

But it’s the passion that gets me. These guys are so into what they’re playing. It inspires me to think that four young dudes can pool their passion and direct it in such a powerful, positive way.

I can’t give the boys ‘Spiderland’ at the full volume it demands, not at 6 am with the missus asleep in the next room. That said, I’m doing what I can through air-drumming and poor singing to convey my own passion. I’m quite sure they get it.

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