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Slint - Spiderland CD (album) cover

SPIDERLAND

Slint

 

Prog Related

4.11 | 116 ratings

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CassandraLeo
5 stars I'm a bit surprised to see Slint categorised as "Prog Related" rather than "Post-Rock/Math Rock" since Spiderland is commonly recognised as being essential to the foundations of both genres. It'd be a bit like categorising the Moody Blues as prog-related - sure, they may not be as pure an example of the genre as some of the acts that followed later, but it arguably wouldn't even exist or at least sound the same without them.

All that said, Spiderland is a bit unusual an example of both genres, since it was created when the sound of each hadn't been thoroughly codified. Most of the album is based in subdued, melancholic guitar rock with uneasy spoken narrations over them that occasionally, though briefly, build into tormented screams. The songs shift meter signatures frequently, with the first two songs in particular using at least five time signatures each and shifting between them rapidly; it's easy to see how the genre of "math rock" got its name. "Washer" is the only song whose vocals are mostly sung, and it's perhaps unsurprisingly the most melancholy piece here, being a lengthy rumination on sleep and death. These are two themes that seem to underpin the entire album; the whole album has an eerie, dreamlike quality that only unsettles more as the album pushes towards its climax.

That climax comes with "Good Morning, Captain", a piece inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. While the whole album has been a bit unsettling to this point, "Good Morning" takes this to a new level, with the entire song based around a dissonant chord pattern and climaxing in the most tortured screams on the whole record (and, arguably, some of the most unsettling in the history of rock music). It's said that some of the band members had to be institutionalised after they completed the recording process (which was accomplished in a marathon four-day session); in particular, vocalist Brian McMahon's screams on "Good Morning" are said to have contributed to this.

Much has been written about the album's sound, but it's worth taking a look at the album's lyrics as well. Firstly, there is an underlying subtext of sleep and dreams to the album's songs: Don in "Don, Aman" makes the momentous decision that concludes the song after sleep; "Washer" touches on the sanctuary of sleep and yet also the fear of losing things within sleep; the narrative focus of many of the songs takes on the atmosphere of a dream.

Perhaps more important to the album's musical subtext, though, is the undercurrent of horror and trauma. The album tends to be sparse on narrative detail, written as though a listener is already familiar with the locales in which the songs are set - which, of course, we are not. This lets us focus more on the events described in the songs, but these, too, are often sparse on detail. Even the opening "Breadcrumb Trail", which on its surface is a description of a romantic meeting between its unnamed narrator and a fortune-teller, is written in a way that unsettles a listener slightly. Psychologists have noted that victims of trauma often elide both foundational context and the horrifying truth of the trauma itself, and the song itself, with its supporting cast of the "soiled" and grotesque, certainly makes us feel as though we have been made party to some fundamental revelation, yet the revelation itself is never made clear.

This continues throughout the album, as most of songs conclude with a momentous event that is never actually described. The queen in "Nosferatu Man" dies, but we never find out how (though it's implied through vampirism); Don in "Don, Aman" makes a momentous decision, but we never find out what; the captain of "Good Morning, Captain" appears to be fleeing some Lovecraftian horror, but the horror is never described. The entire album has an undercurrent of Gothic horror, and the fact that its narration is so sparse on details makes it more unsettling, not less; the songs wouldn't be nearly as effective without their lyrical content.

It's difficult to look at the album now divorced from its historical context. The fact that Slint broke up shortly after making this recording no doubt further contributes to its mystique (despite planning to go on tour and even having a notice saying that interested female vocalists should contact the band). They have reunited sporadically since then and have hinted that some day they may produce new material; they have even performed new songs occasionally, but thus far this remains Slint's final studio album. Even if they never record another note of music, their legacy will have been secured with this album.

CassandraLeo | 5/5 |

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