Slint

Spiderland (Touch and Go ’91) Rating: A-
When I started checking out all the “best albums of the decade” lists in late 1999, I couldn’t help but notice that this album kept popping up. Proclaimed as a “landmark album” by Steve Albini (who produced their quite different and far inferior debut Tweez and who doesn’t often dole out such high praise), I can see why the band's second and final album (produced by Brian Paulson) is retrospectively seen as influential, in particular because of the band’s cold, cavernous sound and extreme sonic shifts. My initial impression was lukewarm, however, and after many tries I’m still unimpressed by Brian McMahan’s (ex-Squirrel Bait and future The For Carnation) talk mumble, ghostly whisper, and his rough-hewn screaming. Fortunately, the vocals are pretty secondary, and Slint rocks. And then they don’t, and then they do, and then they don’t again. But even on the mellower, sometimes surprisingly melodic parts something sinister seems to lurk, and the foreboding atmosphere of shadowy anticipation that’s built during these six long songs is often as impressive as the payoff that ultimately arrives, sometimes all too briefly. For all of the album's well-planned strengths, songs such as "Don, Aman" and especially "For Dinner..." feature far too much doodling down time (like many of the “post rock” band’s they subsequently influenced) during which I'm waiting for something more substantial to happen. Simply put, Spiderland takes more effort to appreciate and is far more frustrating than any alleged “masterpiece” should be. However, if you spend enough time with it, and it took me several years in all honesty, then Spiderland is bound to creep up on you eventually. For example, the opening and closing tracks, "Breadcrumb Trail" and "Good Morning, Captain," are quintessential Slint tracks, what with their slinky lattice work of intertwining guitar parts taken at odd, tricky time signatures. The soft-to-loud dynamics that have since become accepted as alternative rock staples are also in evidence, as both songs start slowly but ultimately erupt amid churning guitars and screaming vocals, with the latter song's incendiary "I miss you!" climax proving most harrowing, almost as if you're peeking in on a guy cracking up (rumor has it that the sessions for this album were so intense, and the toll in completing it so great, that the band members ended up in mental institutions!). Elsewhere, "Nosferatu Man," the albums most consistently rocking track, is notable for its creeping rhythms, wicked riffs, and a fair amount of pure grunge moments on what's a very air guitar worthy track. For my money, however, the album's best song is the epic "Washer," which is all about Dave Pajo's (later in Tortoise and Zwan, among other outlets) gorgeously sad, mournful guitar tone, though the song's spectacularly explosive last two minutes must also be mentioned. Still, though I've outlined some of the strengths and weaknesses of individual tracks, the greatness of this creepily atmospheric yet majestic album is in how it creates its own singular sound world like few other albums. It may make you feel uncomfortable or bored at times, but you will not forget Spiderland. Perhaps it is a masterpiece after all...

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