Saturday 18th August, 2007
Tripod - Old Harcourt St, Dublin
Slint performing Spiderland
(Touch and Go, 1991)
From its monochrome artwork to the analog-loyalist advice on the back of the CD issue ("this recording is meant to be listened to on vinyl"), Slint's second LP feels like an artefact out of time. It stands in contrast to both the band members' louder/faster roots in '80s hardcore and the media-saturated, internet-connected world that lay just around the corner. Upon its release in 1991, Steve Albini - who recorded Slint's first album but was not involved with this one - awarded Spiderland "ten fucking stars" in a review in Melody Maker, noting that "in 10 years it will be a landmark and you'll have to scramble to buy a copy". A decade and a half later, it continues to sell steadily (50,000 units shifted!) and is now freighted with mythology. Legend has it that PJ Harvey responded to the reverse sleeve message: "interested female vocalists write 1864 douglas blvd. louisville, ky. 40205". By that point Slint had broken up. Much like The Velvet Underground's iconic debut, the number of bands subsequently influenced by this disc could fill a telephone directory. Yet you don't need to be aware of Spiderland's mythical status to be in thrall to the music, which is as inscrutable as Will Oldham's cover photograph of the young group, half smiling, submerged in the lake of an abandoned quarry. Opening number Breadcrumb Trail is a simple story: boy meets fortune teller girl at a fairground, they ride the rollercoaster together, he bids her farewell. But the delivery is high drama, Brian McMahan's economical spoken narrative cradled by undulating harmonic patterns which give way to textured distortion and a heart-in-mouth anxiety. Nosferatu Man floods the speakers with dread and dissonance: a creepy, first-person rendering of the Dracula fable allied to lightning strike riffage and drummer Britt Walford's taut attack. There's no percussion at all on Don, Aman, which finds guitarist David Pajo and bass player Todd Brashear establishing a painterly, nocturnal backdrop for McMahan's whispered insights into the psyche of an embittered loner. The singer stares into the abyss on Washer: a heartbreakingly beautiful accord between spacious, questing dreamscapes and nakedly emotional lyricism. The shifting internal dynamics and stark tone of the Coleridge-inspired finale Good Morning, Captain are like post-punk inversions of progressive rock's bombast. It's portentous, for sure, but possessed of a filmic tension that's as alluring and unknowable as the deepest ocean.
© Manish Agarwal, London, May 2007
Good Morning Captain