"Spiderland" is the magnum-opus of the mysterious Kentucky band Slint. I suppose they got sick of eating fried chicken (I mean, what else does Kentucky have? Does Kentucky even exist?) and decided to make something new. They changed their sound quite a bit from their dayview album "Tweez". And here's where I already start struggling. The sound presented on this LP is quite difficult to label. On one hand, you have the crescendos that make you wanna say post-rock, the complex guitar work that makes you wanna say math-rock, the very effervescent production sounds kind of post-hardcore-ish, etc. and this is one of the many reasons why this album is pretty unique. It's a very good mash-up of various rock sub-genres.
On this project, Slint shows a much darker side in comparison with its previous. This is one of the most unsettling pieces of music I've ever heard, courtesy to the narratives they present in each song and the horrific visualism that the instrumentals give us. Incredible how the lyrics and the instrumentals complement each other so well. For example, on the first song. It describes a rollercoaster ride and the chorus riff sounds pretty much like being on a rollercoaster. Sure, it can be kind of a stretch, but still. This happens quite a few times on the album and I find it genius. Another thing I love is how polarizing is the vocal delivery. You can either get some whispery spoken-word or some full rage in-your-face screaming, which is pretty cool. Out of all the things that amaze me about this LP, there's one in particular: the fact that these guys were in their early 20's. I mean, HOW THE HELL CAN YOU WRITE SOMETHING THIS MATURE ON YOUR 19/20's?? It's shocking and horrifying. If you haven't watched the basement practice for "Good Morning, Captain" yet, go now. It's truly bizarre. It looks like Britt is possessed or whatever. But anyways, the instrumental work on this LP is fantastic, especially the drumming. "Spiderland" features mostly long song structures, has a powerful atmosphere and is mainly built on repetition. This is an aspect that throws me in more than it throws me off. It patiently deteriorates your mind. Highly recommended, by the way.
Back to the music nerd. He arrives home and puts his brand new LP on his brand new gramophone (isn't this how it worked in '91?). And we're in.
First track, "Breadcrumb Trail". Some great sounding drums join a chorus-y guitar playing a circular riff in an odd time signature (something that occurs many times on this album). A low voice starts meticulously describing his entrance on a random white tent at a carnival. The narrator meets a fortune-teller and invites her to a rollercoaster ride. As soon as he makes the invitation, here comes part II. An heavy riff resembling old Sabbath with some heavy-distorted harmonics (another Slint trademark) pave the way for the screams. The whole thing is dizzy and it really feels like being on a rollercoaster. Eventually, after some rough 3 minutes of fun at the carnival, the initial riff unexpectedly comes again after a little crescendo. Now the narrator is talking about the sunset and his goodbye to the fortune teller. It was basically the equivalent of spending a full day on revelry. Fantastic opener.
Next, "Nosferatu Man". Some sinister drums introduce a killer riff (again, weird time signature). One of my favourite aspects about this song is the lead guitar harmonics. I would describe them as "spine-tingling". This time, the narrator is the Nosferatu Man (or Dracula, which one you prefer). He's spitting some kind of cheap poetry but the way it is delivered is cool as fuck, if you ask me. The song turns into a nightmare of distortion to a point it sounds..."spidery"! In my opinion, the narrative on this song might not be as engaging as the previous one in a sense that it isn't as visualistic but I love the even heavier sound.
Third track, "Don, Aman". A chilling voice whispers the words "Don stepped outside". Then, some very low-profile sounding guitars play a really patient riff. This track is probably the most unsettling one, as it portrays themes like social anxiety. Don, referenced in the very beginning of the Song, is at a party and decides to step outside to breathe. He starts questioning his actions at the party and we get the clear image that he isn't enjoying being there. But he takes a long breathe and decides to go back inside anyways. Then the guitars change. You can feel Don's tension while he notices everyone is doing great socially except him. The suspense here is pretty horrifying if you ask me. He eventually decides to get away from there. Then, Boom. Distortion. Probably a symbol of Don's battle with himself for being so anxious everytime. The initial riff comes back, creating a circular aura (just like on "Breadcrumb Trail"). This could mean Don isn't gonna change and he should embrace its loneliness, as the narrator refers to his reflection in the mirror as "his friend". Pretty dark stuff. For me this is the high point of Side 1.
"Ah, Jesus. I can't believe the first side is already over. Now I'm gonna have to get up, great. I hope someone creates some kind of device to listen to whole albums without having to stand up at the halfway point in the future..."
Side 2, "Washer". After an almost inaudible intro, it starts a descending chord progression that I would guess it was radiohead if I hadn't heard it before. This song has got a really cool bridge between verses. I also like the final crescendo and consequent explosion. It's clearly the peak of the song after so many minutes spent on the verses. Lyrically, this thing sounds like a suicide note (possibly from Don??). The narrator is saying goodbye (maybe to his lover?) in a very dramatic way, that's why I have this theory. But this track is kinda vague on that aspect. It is not the most direct song lyrically and that's probably why it is one of the most poetic in my opinion. I'm saying this but probably they left something that is devoid of any meaning just to leave us wondering what is going on.
Next up, we have "For Dinner...". A very draggy instrumental piece with 5 minutes. Nothing really extraordinaire happens. The same chord is repeated a lot and you've probably figured out I don't have anything interesting to say about this song besides it is a good transition from the 4th to the 6th track.
Finally, "Good Morning, Captain". So many cool things to say about this song! Let's talk about the instrumentals first. This track features some of the best performances of the entire album. The guitars are really hypnotic, the bass is so fat it makes you feel fat too and the drums are killer. We've got some tense riffs in the middle, inducing suspense. There's another cool thing about the guitar, but I need to give a lyrical context. This song talks about the captain of a certain ship. He is the only one that hasn't died yet after a big storm. This captain is facing death and so he recalls his childhood and shows how much he misses his young days. This is just a theory, but it seems like the most likely one. And there's this bit where Pajo's guitar does some harmonics that get harder and harder to a point that it sounds like an anchor being pulled from the sea. Awesome! At the end, the captain explodes into screams of horror. McMahan delivers some incredible primal-ish screams. They sound raw, sincere, honest and, overall, they are the main reason why this is the highest point on the album, in my opinion.
To finish this review, I'd like to talk a little about something I find important. Has I already mentioned before, this album had no publicity. There were no means for the band to show "everyone" their work. And yet, "Spiderland" became a success after some time and it still is one of the most influential masterpieces in modern rock history. I mean, what was the chance of success on this one?? And this makes me sad, because somewhere out there, there's a bunch of people doing some incredible music that I will never hear. Somewhere out there, there's an holy grail of music hidden in some random suburban garage. If you play music that you think should be shared with everyone, do your best to spread it, be persistent. You might have some masterpiece on your hands and you don't even know it. Get yourself a voice in the music industry if you think you should be heard. Try to leave your mark, do your thing. This album is an "heads-up" for garage bands. Because in the end, what matters is having friends who are willing to play some weird (or not) shit with you. That's the true concept of music: bringing people together. It's so simple. And if this album doesn't show you how spontaneously you can change music with a group of friends, I'll leave you with the words that introduce a Slint 1989 live recording: “We’re from Louisville, and we thought you needed to hear this.”
I hope the music nerd liked it in '91. Because it's gonna be timeless.