When I first listened to Slint’s “Spiderland”, I did not know what to make of it. It was strange, it was mesmerizing, but I knew I was listening to something brilliant the moment the opening notes of “Breadcrumb Trail” kicked in. I can only imagine how the record was received when it came out back in 1991, before people started embracing terms like “post-rock” and “math-rock”. While the record was received poorly when it first came out, it managed to achieve cult status with its weird music and that iconic album cover shot by Will Oldham.
There has always been a sense of mystery surrounding Slint and this record, especially since the band broke up before the record was released. In truth, much like Fugazi and Unwound, Slint are just a bunch of young punks who wanted to do something different musically. “Spiderland” is a document of Slint going out in a blaze of glory. Following up a well-loved noise rock album like “Tweez” with something completely out of left field takes a lot of balls, and it probably took its toll on the band which led to their breakup.
“Spiderland” opens with “Breadcrumb Trail”. The track is an example of the band’s love of playing with dynamics, relying heavily on repetitive guitar lines and the almost jazz-influenced drumming of Britt Walford. The spoken/whispered vocals from Brian McMahan added to the record’s mystery, and lent itself well to the record’s theme of alienation especially in tracks like “Nosferatu Man” with its weird time signature and dissonant guitar riffs.
The third track, “Don, Aman”, is another meditative track comprised mostly of guitars and vocals by Britt Walford. The following track, “Washer”, is the closest the band has to an actual song in this record with McMahan delivering the vocals in a straightforward manner rather than going for the spoken word style that is prevalent in the rest of the album.
“For Dinner” is a brief instrumental interlude before the record’s closing track, “Good Morning Captain” which is probably the band’s most well-known song.
Slint’s “Spiderland” is a challenging listen, however it doesn’t come off as pretentious. In fact, each song in the record is painful in their sincerity. And this is another reason why “Spiderland” stood the test of time.
“Spiderland” ended up being Slint’s final album, and the members went their separate ways. Brian McMahan started The For Carnation which built upon the sound that Slint experimented with in “Spiderland”. Drummer Britt Walford became a member of alt-rock legends The Breeders. Guitarist David Pajo embarked on a successful solo career and became a noted session musician playing with bands like Zwan, and more recently The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol.
Two decades later and “Spiderland” is still one of the most mind-boggling albums ever released. It is the result of young musicians coming into the studio with a singular vision: to make something completely different. And while it wasn’t a commercial success at the time, its influence can be heard on a lot of bands that have popped up since the record’s release.