Spiderland

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Spiderland
A black-and-white photograph of Slint standing in tall water with only part of their faces visible
Studio album by Slint
ReleasedMarch 27, 1991 (1991-03-27)
RecordedAugust–October 1990 at River North Records in Chicago, Illinois, United States
GenrePost-rock, math rock
Length39:38
LabelTouch and Go
ProducerBrian Paulson
Slint chronology
Tweez
(1989)
Spiderland
(1991)
Untitled EP
(1994)
 
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Spiderland
A black-and-white photograph of Slint standing in tall water with only part of their faces visible
Studio album by Slint
ReleasedMarch 27, 1991 (1991-03-27)
RecordedAugust–October 1990 at River North Records in Chicago, Illinois, United States
GenrePost-rock, math rock
Length39:38
LabelTouch and Go
ProducerBrian Paulson
Slint chronology
Tweez
(1989)
Spiderland
(1991)
Untitled EP
(1994)

Spiderland is the second studio album by the American rock band Slint. It was released on March 27, 1991, through Touch and Go Records. Featuring dramatically alternating dynamics and vocals ranging from spoken word to shouting, the album contains narrative lyrics that emphasize alienation. Spiderland was Slint's first release on Touch and Go, and the group's last album.

Although Spiderland was not widely recognized on its initial release, it eventually sold more than 50,000 copies and became a landmark album in underground music after Slint broke up. The album has been highly influential on the styles of many bands in the post-rock and math rock genres, including Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and has been named a favorite of several indie rock musicians. In 2007, Slint reunited for a tour consisting of performances of Spiderland in its entirety.

Context[edit]

Slint formed in 1987 in Louisville, Kentucky, from the remnants of the punk rock band Squirrel Bait; the founding members included Brian McMahan (guitar, vocals), David Pajo (guitar), Britt Walford (drums) and Ethan Buckler (bass guitar). The band's debut album, the Steve Albini-produced Tweez, was released on the group's self-owned label Jennifer Hartman Records and Tapes.[1] The album's sound has been described as a combination of "scratchy guitars, thumping bass lines and hard hitting drums".[2] Buckler promptly left the band out of dissatisfaction with Albini's production, and was replaced with Todd Brashear.[3] The band's second recording was for the instrumental extended play Slint, which included a new version of "Rhoda" from Tweez. The EP, which would not be released until 1994, was a departure from Tweez's sound and reflected the band's new musical direction.[4]

After the band ended its brief tour in support of Tweez, most of its members attended college.[3] Around this time McMahan and Walford began writing together for the band's next record, creating six new songs which the band practiced throughout the summer of 1990.[3] Slint entered River North Records in August 1990 to record Spiderland. At that time there were no vocals or lyrics prepared for the album, so the band wrote them while in the studio.[3] The album's producer, Brian Paulson, was known for his "live" recording style in the studio, with minimal takes.[5] Paulson recalled "It was weird while I was doing [Spiderland] because I remember sitting there, and I just knew there was something about it. I've never heard anything like this. I'm really digging this but it's really fucking weird."[5]

The recording sessions for Spiderland are reputed to have been difficult for the members of the band and were, according to AllMusic, "intense, traumatic and one more piece of evidence supporting the theory that band members had to be periodically institutionalized during the completion of the album."[6] Rumors circulated that at least one member of Slint had been checked into a psychiatric hospital.[7] Walford later addressed these stories in an article in Select by saying, "[We were] definitely trying to be serious about things, pretty intense, which made recording the album kinda stressful."[7] The recording was completed in four days.[5]

Music[edit]

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A sample of "Breadcrumb Trail", the opening track from Slint's 1991 album, Spiderland. This sample contains part of the song's verse, bridge, and chorus.

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A sample of "Good Morning, Captain", the sixth track from Spiderland. This sample contains part of the song's second verse.

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The music of Spiderland is noted for its angular guitar rhythms, dramatically alternating dynamic shifts and irregular time signatures. McMahan's singing style interchanges between mumbling spoken word and strained shouting. The lyrics of Spiderland are often written in a narrative style. Influences on the record included Gang of Four, Black Sabbath and Sonic Youth.[8] Will Hermes of Spin summarized the album's sound as "mid-'70s King Crimson gone emo: screeching guitar chords and gorgeous note-spinning in odd-metered instrumentals speckled with words both spoken and sung".[9]

The album's opening track, "Breadcrumb Trail", describes a day spent at a carnival with a fortune-teller.[10] The song features a complex arrangement with sharp transitions, and the guitar fluctuates between a clean-sounding riff with harmonics in the verse to heavy distortion featuring extremely high-pitched notes in the chorus.[10]

"Nosferatu Man", the second track, is inspired by the 1922 German Expressionist silent film Nosferatu.[11] The song's verse includes a dissonant guitar riff, which uses high-pitched notes similar to those in "Breadcrumb Trail" and a drumbeat based on snare and toms, absent of cymbals.[11] The chorus, featuring "jagged" distorted guitar and a thrash-influence beat, segues into an extended jam before the song ends with 30 seconds of feedback.[11]

"Don, Aman" features Walford on lead vocals and guitar. Delivered in a hushed tone, the song's ambiguous lyrics depict the thoughts of an "isolated soul" before, after and during an evening at a bar.[12] The tempo quickens throughout, and then becomes loud and distorted before slowing back to the original tempo.[12]

"Washer", the album's longest track, features a "barely audible" intro with guitar and cymbals before the rest of the band comes in.[13] The song builds tension until the final verse, which features loud distortion, and is followed by a lengthy outro.[13]

"For Dinner..." is an ambient instrumental track.[14] Beginning with a quiet section of "brooding chords throb[bing] with the occasional rumble of muted toms and bass drum", the song cycles through sections of building and releasing tension.[14] One guitar chord is repeatedly strummed for the last minute of the song before ending.[14]

The final song of the album, "Good Morning Captain", is based on the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.[15] The song features a two chord guitar structure, a "spindly, tight riff" from the rhythm section and a "jerky" beat.[15] During the recording of the song's final chorus, McMahan became physically sick due to the strain of yelling over the guitars.[7] David Peschek of The Guardian compared "Good Morning Captain" to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven", writing that "the extraordinary Good Morning Captain is [Slint's] Stairway to Heaven, if it's possible to imagine Stairway to Heaven bleached of all bombast."[8]

Title and packaging[edit]

Slint in a photo taken by Will Oldham from the same session as the Spiderland cover[16]

The name Spiderland originates from McMahan's younger brother, who thought that the record sounded "spidery".[7] The album's black-and-white cover photograph, which depicts the members of the band (Brashear, McMahan, Walford and Pajo, from left to right) treading water in the lake of an abandoned quarry, was taken by Will Oldham.[3] An article in The Stranger credited the cover for creating a mystique surrounding Slint, noting "[m]ost people only had seen Slint as four heads floating in a Kentucky quarry on Spiderland's cover. Listeners pondered the band's sparsely adorned black-and-white covers as if they were runes bearing secrets."[17] Chris Gaerig of the Michigan Daily wrote, "the cover of Slint's masterful Spiderland captures the joyous fear and violence of the album so precisely it shakes souls. The group—submerged in a lake to their chins with deranged smiles—seems to be stalking you, hovering out of the black-and-white façade."[18] Several other promotional images have been taken from the same photo session with Oldham.[16]

A photo of a spider taken by Noel Saltzman is used on the back cover, reflecting the album's title. The inside sleeve contains the message "interested female vocalists write 1864 douglas blvd. louisville, ky. 40205". McMahan confirmed that this message was serious, and said "We did get some responses and we did listen to CDs and tapes. We didn't end up doing anything immediately, so that idea of adding someone sort of fell by the wayside."[19] The message "this recording is meant to be listened to on vinyl" is printed on some CD issues of Spiderland, demonstrating Slint's preference of analog audio devices.[20]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
Metacritic99/100[21]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic5/5 stars[6]
Robert ChristgauC+[22]
Clash10/10[23]
Paste9/10[24]
Pitchfork Media10/10[25]
PopMatters9/10[26]
Record Collector5/5 stars[27]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide2.5/5 stars[28]
Sputnikmusic4.5/5[29]
Under the Radar10/10[30]

Spiderland received positive reviews from music critics, including Spin, NME, and The Village Voice.[31] In a contemporary review for Melody Maker, Steve Albini, producer of Slint's 1989 album Tweez, gave the album ten stars and called it "a majestic album, sublime and strange, made more brilliant by its simplicity and quiet grace." Albini found its unadorned production impeccable and said that it vividly captures McMahan and Pajo's playing so well that their guitars "seem to hover in space directly past the listener's nose", while "the incredibly precise-yet-instinctive drumming has the same range and wallop it would in your living room."[32]

In a retrospective review for AllMusic, Dean Carlson said that Spiderland is "one of the most essential and chilling releases in the mumbling post-rock arena". However, he felt that it is "slightly overrated" and that McMahan's vocals convey "strangled pity instead of outright empathy."[6] Robert Christgau was less enthusiastic and wrote that, despite their "sad-sack affect", Slint are actually "art-rockers without the courage of their pretensions" with poor lyrics.[22] In The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, Rolling Stone journalist Mac Randall felt that the album's music lacks songform, even though it sounds more accessible than Tweez: "[t]he absence of anything resembling a tune continues to nag."[28]

In 2003, Pitchfork wrote of Spiderland: "a heady, chilling listen; the irregularity of its hypnotic melodies, fractured beats and mismatched lyrics demand a new kind of appreciation, independent of traditional notions of songcraft. With its half-mumbled, half-hollered vocals, deliberate percussion and drone-gone-aggressive guitars, Spiderland's urgency is almost traumatic to swallow: despondency never tasted so real." They named it the twelfth best album of the 1990s.[33] In 2014, Spiderland was reissued and received universal acclaim from critics.[21]

Legacy[edit]

Slint performing Spiderland at the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival

Though largely ignored upon its initial release, Spiderland has attracted greater attention through time. This growth in popularity has been attributed in part to the appearance of the track "Good Morning, Captain" on the soundtrack to the 1995 film Kids.[34] The soundtrack has sold over 50,000 copies,[35] though Kory Grow of the College Music Journal suggested that the album "has inspired countless bands (and therefore fans) far beyond its SoundScan numbers".[36] Spiderland has become a landmark indie rock album and is considered, along with Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, to have been the primary catalyst of the post-rock and math rock genres.[37][38] David Peschek said that the album is "the ur-text for what became known as post-rock, a fractured, almost geometric reimagining of rock music stripped of its dionysiac impulse."[8] Rachel Devine of The List called Spiderland "arguably the most disproportionately influential [album] in music history".[39] Pitchfork Media reviewer Stuart Berman commented: " Spiderland’s greatest legacy is not that it motivated a cluster of semi-popular bands in the late-90s and early 2000s to adopt its whisper-to-scream schematic. It’s the boundless inspiration it perpetually provides for all the bands that have yet to emerge from the basement."[40]

McMahan reflected on the album's success: "We worked really hard on Spiderland. I mean, I definitely felt much more personal about it. I thought it represented us as people, musically, a lot more than Tweez did. That's about it. It seemed like when we were around, and actively playing and stuff, that people's responses to us were fairly ambivalent. I thought it was funny when the press picked up on it. For an independent release, it had a strange sort of audience and kept selling three or four years after we recorded it; it still sells more copies than when it first came out."[41] Touch and Go founder Corey Rusk said that Spiderland is "like an icon now. But when it came out, nobody cared! The band had broken up by the time the album came out, and it really didn't sell particularly well or get written about all that much in the year it was released. But it was a revolutionary, groundbreaking record, and it's one of the few instances where people catch up to it later on."[42]

Post-rock bands Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Isis and Explosions in the Sky have been influenced by Spiderland.[43] Dinosaur Jr and Sebadoh member Lou Barlow said of Spiderland, "It was quiet-to-loud without sounding like grunge or indie rock. It sounded more like a new kind of music."[7] PJ Harvey has named Spiderland as one of her favorite albums,[44] and supposedly contacted Slint regarding the band's request for a female vocalist.[34] Bob Nastanovich of Pavement[45] and Mark Clifford of Seefeel[46] have also cited Spiderland as among their favorite albums. The album cover of Spiderland was recreated by The Shins in the music video for "New Slang".[47]

Reunion[edit]

An advertisement for Slint's performance of Spiderland at the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival

Despite having plans for a tour of Europe to promote Spiderland, Slint broke up in 1991 for reasons that were not revealed.[3] Members of the band went on to join other musical projects, including Tortoise, The Breeders, Palace and The For Carnation.[48] Slint reunited briefly in 2005 for an eighteen-date tour. Pajo said, "We don't want to be a reunion band that keeps reuniting. [...] I know that this is going to be it."[49] However, in 2007 Slint reunited again for a tour featuring performances of Spiderland in its entirety as part of All Tomorrow's Parties' "Don't Look Back" concert series celebrating classic albums.[50] The tour included appearances at the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival[51] and Primavera Sound Festival.[52] McMahan said in an interview at the Pitchfork Music Festival that performing the album live was "pretty cool. It moves a little slower than it does on the record, but it's all there. [...] It took some getting used to, some revisiting the material and rehearsing."[53] In an August 2013 interview with Vish Khanna, former producer Steve Albini revealed that the band was working on remastering Spiderland with engineer Bob Weston.[54]

Critical responses to Slint's reunion has been mixed, with detractors commenting on the music's unsuitability for a live setting. Chicago Sun-Times music critic Jim DeRogatis wrote that although "fans greeted [Slint's performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival] as manna from heaven. [...] the musicians' fragile, intertwining guitar lines, mumbled attempts at poetry and uninspiring shoegazer personas were poor matches for the setting and the occasion, especially during the static, percussion-deprived 'Don, Aman' and the bloated anthem 'Good Morning, Captain'."[55] According to members of The A.V. Club, Slint's performance of "Don, Aman" at the festival "capture[d] the band's greatness and its greatest weakness: Slint completely lacks stage charisma, and playing a deathly quiet, moody song on a big outdoor stage just doesn't work."[56] Both DeRogatis and the A. V. Club review also noted that the band's performance was plagued by sound problems.[56][57] A New York review of a performance at Webster Hall opined "the deeply brooding, fussily-executed album finally sounded, sixteen years later, like the existential, cosmos-annihilating shrug it was envisioned as. Which is to say: It sounded fucking great."[58]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Brashear/McMahan/Pajo/Walford, except "Don, Aman" written by McMahan/Pajo/Walford.

No.TitleLength
1."Breadcrumb Trail"  5:55
2."Nosferatu Man"  5:35
3."Don, Aman"  6:28
4."Washer"  8:50
5."For Dinner..."  5:05
6."Good Morning, Captain"  7:38

Personnel[edit]

Slint
Technical personnel

Accolades[edit]

PublicationCountryAccoladeYearRank
Alternative PressUnited StatesThe 90 Greatest Albums of the 90s1998No. 34[59]
Pitchfork MediaUSTop 100 Albums of the 1990s1999No. 12[60]
Melody MakerUnited KingdomAll Time Top 100 Albums2000No. 55[61]
NMEUK100 Best Albums2003No. 53[62]
SpinUS100 Greatest Albums, 1985–20052005No. 94[9]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]