FEW ALBUMS are inherently dark, and Slint’s Spiderland is one of them. It’s black, dreadful and at its core, full of sadness. As the four members of Slint stare at you from the album cover, it feels like they’re looking into your soul, and in a way, the music has a similar effect. It’s creeping guitars, time shifting drum and (mostly) spoken word vocals draw from the likes of Math Rock, Post-Rock, Punk Rock, Metal, without being confined to one of these stereotypes. And in doing so, Slint had a profound effect on music, influencing a wide variety of artists from different backgrounds.
From the moment opener ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ kicks off its clear Spiderland isn’t your bog standard Rock album. The guitar lines follow a weaving path of mystery and danger. Brian McMahan’s vocals are soft at first, telling a story of a carnival, but when the chorus comes in, his voice becomes tortured and strained, as if in pain. Unlike some Emo or Pop Punk music, Brian McMahan’s suffered vocals throughout this entire album aren’t self-pitying; they’re frightened, angry, and wretched with sheer emotion. It’s enough to turn Spiderland into a disturbing affair.
The following track, ‘Nosferatu Man’ if anything feels even darker than its predecessor. The instrumentation on this song feels heavier, much more like Hard Rock or Heavy Metal, however the erratic time signature gives it an edge. When we hit the half way mark though, the chunky, thick riffs that come from the guitar and bass give it a near-hardcore feel. But in true Slint style, to contrast to this we have McMahan’s whispered vocals layered over the top.
‘Don stepped outside…’ Three of the most foreboding words to open a song. With ‘Don, Aman’, the harmonies that resonate from the guitar and bass are both beautiful and disturbing. The lyrical matter is perhaps some of the most notable on the album, which is interesting since if you put it down on paper it’s not all that remarkable. Don, at a party, feels cooped up, goes outside, and then decides the re-enter the party, and then goes home. But the way the events are phrased makes it seem demonic, claustrophobic, haunting, and just generally horrible. To couple this, we have these gradually built up chords, with harmonics being thrown in over the top. It makes every middle class party seem like Hell, and especially when the overdrive kicks in on the guitar, it brings a whole new darkness to the song. ‘Don, Aman’ brings out the true nature, and maybe even the monotony, of suburban middle class American life.
‘Washer’ is perhaps one of the more melodic songs on the album, which sees one of the few instances of singing on Spiderland. Like the rest of the album, there is a still an inherent blackness to this song, but almost feels pitiful in its delivery, like sparing someone from death. With its 4/4 time signature and McMahan’s quivering vocals, it’s one of the more ‘traditional Rock’ numbers here, despite being eight minutes long, and with the incredible diversity on the album, it doesn’t feel unwelcome at all. The breakdown in the last two minutes is spectacular, leading in with some harmonises vocals before plunging into this wailing guitar and out of control riffs.
Penultimate track ‘For Dinner…’ is the only instrumental on Spiderland, and offers some form of relief from the madness that has engulfed (and will continue to) the album. It’s quiet, peaceful, and contains some soft drums and guitar work. It’s a surprisingly pleasant listen, but doesn’t abandon the mantra that Slint have set so far in the record. Despite its sound, there’s still some underlying darkness to the song.
I think I’d be safe to say that closer ‘Good Morning, Captain’ is the best track on the album. With lyrical matter that calls back to The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, ‘Good Morning, Captain’ has a fearful agenda from the moment the harrowing guitar kicks the song off. The notable bass line and drum beat takes the lead as the light guitar fiddles over the top. The lyrics are harrowing and grim:
“I’m the only one left. The storm, took them all,
He managed as he tried to stand.
The tears ran down his face.
Please, it’s cold.”
As the guitar grows throughout the song, it leaps from Metal like riffs to higher pitch notes that (and I’m being serious) feel like they’re laughing at you. Despite how heavy the songs gets, the vocals continue to whisper, as if inviting the listener in on a dreaded tale. Like the other Slint songs on this album, there are breakdowns, the most notable being when the song is stripped back to its chords and harmonic guitars. It really does give some amazing detail to the song, more like you’re reading a book, or watching a horror film. The last minute and a half of this song are one of the best musical moments of all time. As the song continues to build momentum, the guitars get louder and McMahon’s vocals repeat themselves: ‘I’ll make it up to you… I miss you…’ and then FINALLY he explodes, screaming into the microphone like a man on the brink of death. It’s fucking incredible.
But even with all my descriptions and appraisal of the album, nothing will live up to actually experiencing this for yourself. So please, put on some headphones, pull up this Spiderland, and immerse yourself in it.
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