Tuesday, March 16, 2010

life-changing records: SLINT

Some time back we briefly touched base on that absurdly-named Math Rock genre of postpunk indierock. Angular guitars, intricately-woven webs of sound, etc. Spoken, not sung, vocals, more often than not.

Today we feature perhaps the Ground Zero band of Math Rock, the mythical, majestic Slint. One can say that Slint is my generation's Velvet Underground - not many of us bought the record(s) when they came out, but those who did, formed bands. What they did was unlike anything that had come before, and better than the imitators who followed.

I won't waste energy rehashing the band's history (it's all over the Internets, though the best pieces are here, here, here and here), that their first, strange, odd noiseblast of an LP Tweez was an early Steve Albini recording (from 1987, well before he made his name as a highly-sought recording engineer), that their second full-length, Spiderland, was NOT recorded by Steve but received "ten fucking stars" from him in a Melody Maker review, and that after their breakup the true bridge piece between the two LPs, a two-song set recorded by Steve between Tweez and Spiderland, was released in 1994 to a collective "sigh" (as to what the world was missing with the breakup of the band).

I just won't. Rather, go to Wikipedia and follow the links, there is a fantastic entry for Spiderland contained within.

I once read on another blog that Spiderland is a true life-changing record, as opposed to a "soundtrack to my life"-type record. That guy was spot-on: once I heard Spiderland (way back in 1991, fools!) my entire window to the world of music changed. All you have to do is immerse yourself into the sonic panorama that is "Washer", or the closing cathartic torment of "Good Morning, Captain", or the subdued, apprehensive "For Dinner..." to experience it.

Albini's remarkably prescient 1991 review, as originally penned for Melody Maker, is reproduced in its entirety here:

Since about 1980, America has been host to an ever-increasing parasitic infestation of rock bands of ever-dwindling originality. It seems there is no one left on the continent with an aspiration to play guitar that hasn't formed a band and released a record. And that record sounds a little bit like Dinosaur Jr.

Trust me on this; all but maybe three of those records are pure bullshit.

My primary association with rock music is that I am a fan of it, though listening to the aforementioned nearly killed that. In its best state, rock music invigorates me, changes my mood, triggers introspection or envelopes me with sheer sound. Spiderland does all those things, simultaneously and in turns, more than any records I can think of in five years.

Spiderland is, unfortunately, Slint's swansong, the band having succumbed to the internal pressures which eventually punctuate all bands' biographies. It's an amazing record though, and no one still capable of being moved by rock music should miss it. In 10 years it will be a landmark and you'll have to scramble to buy a copy then. Beat the rush.

Slint formed in 1986 as an outlet and pastime for four friends from Louisville, Kentucky. Their music was strange, wholly their own, sparse and tight. What immediately set them apart was their economy and precision. Slint was that rare band willing to play just one or two notes at a time and sometimes nothing at all. Their only other recording, 1989's Tweez hints at their genius, but only a couple of the tracks have anything like the staying power of Spiderland.

Spiderland is a majestic album, sublime and strange, made more brilliant by its simplicity and quiet grace. Songs evolve and expand from simple statements that are inverted and truncated in a manner that seems spontaneous, but is so precise and emphatic that it must be intuitive or orchestrated or both.

Straining to find a band to compare them with, I can only think of two, and Slint doesn't sound anything like either of them. Structurally and in tone, they recall Television circa Marquee Moon and Crazy Horse, whose simplicity they echo and whose style they most certainly do not.

To whom would Pere Ubu or Chrome have been compared in 1972? Forgive me, I am equally clueless.

Slint's music has always been primarily instrumental, and Spiderland isn't a radical departure, but the few vocals are among the most pungent of any album around. When I first heard Brian McMahan whisper the pathetic words to "Washer", I was embarrased for him. When I listened to the song again, the content eluded me and I was staggered by the sophistication and subtle beauty of the phrasing. The third time, the story made me sad nearly to tears. Genius.

Spiderland is flawless. The dry, unembellished recording is so revealing it sometimes feels like eavesdropping. The crystalline guitar of Brian McMahan and the glassy, fluid guitar of David Pajo seem to hover in space directly past the listener's nose. The incredibly precise-yet-instinctive drumming has the same range and wallop it would in your living room.

Only two other bands have meant as much to me as Slint in the past few years and only one of them, The Jesus Lizard, have made a record this good. We are in a time of midgets: dance music, three varieties of simple-minded hard rock genre crap, soulless-crooning, infantile slogan-studded rap and ball-less balladeering. My instincts tell me the dry spell will continue for a while - possibly until the bands Slint will inspire reach maturity. Until then, play this record and kick yourself if you never got to see them live. In ten years, you'll lie like the cocksucker you are and say you did anyway.

Ten fucking stars.

Steve Albini.

I never got to see them live, I won't lie about it, but by the time the March 30, 1991 Melody Maker - the issue which contained this review - wound its way to Colorado Springs (where I was living at the time), I had already bought my copy of this record.

Backtracking a few years, Tweez (an LP where all the tracks, and the individual album sides themselves in the record's vinyl configuration, are named for the members' parents and pets), while good in its own right, completely fails to give any indication whatsoever that these musicians had the music of Spiderland in their future. Tweez is Slint's "Warsaw" (1977-era Joy Division) as Spiderland is to "Blue Monday".

The segueing Untitled EP (recorded by Albini in 1989) has a new track "Glenn" and a re-recording of Tweez's closing epic "Rhoda" - and it is such a radical reinterpretation, it may as well be a new track based on "Rhoda". I used to dislike the EP because it's all instrumental - but, in listening to it over the past year or so, I think it's utterly phenomenal.

Since this is my blog and I do what I choose with it, the versions presented here have been remastered by yours truly (from the original CD issues). Both Tweez and Spiderland were pressed at relatively low volumes, so I tightened up the levels a bit to give them more oomph. The band and Albini were unhappy with Tweez's final mixdown EQ, so I did some judicious re-EQ to the Tweez tracks to bring a bit more presence back in the middle. And finally, the whole thing is presented in lovely lossless FLAC for your pleasure. I can't abide by such wonderful, life-changing music being subjected to lossy MP3 encoding.

If you don't like the EQ or my mastering job, feel free to buy the originals (AFAIK they're all still in print, though may be hard to find locally).

- - - - -

SLINT Complete Discography
remastered from redbook CD by thepowerofindependenttrucking.blogspot.com

- - - - -

TWEEZ (1989, Jennifer Hartman Records)
Recorded in 1987 by Steve Albini (credited as Some Fuckin Derd Niffer)

01 Ron
02 Nan Ding
03 Carol
04 Kent
05 Charlotte
06 Darlene
07 Warren
08 Pat
09 Rhoda

- - - - -

(1994, Touch and Go Records)
Recorded in 1989 by Steve Albini

01 Glenn
02 Rhoda

- - - - -

SPIDERLAND (1991, Touch and Go Records)
Recorded in 1990 by Brian Paulson

01 Breadcrumb Trail
02 Nosferatu Man
03 Don, Aman
04 Washer
05 For Dinner...
06 Good Morning, Captain

- - - - -

Files removed. Sorry kids, but check Amazon ;)



  1. Fuck yes. This is your blog and you do what you want. Thank you, my son.

    A grateful fan of yours.

  2. Thank you, again. You always have the best music on here. If we ever meet, the beers are on me.

  3. Really looking forward to hearing this, but I'm having trouble downloading Pt 3 - 4 unsuccessful attempt so far. Anyone else?

  4. Slint. Spiderland. Superb. Always on my best albums list to which many respond 'who?' What a shameful world we live in.

  5. Ha! I go back one year further, to 1990. This band was on heavy rotation on our local college radio and I've been hooked for life. Many thanks for the remastered FLACs!
    Do you reckon that the Live Songs LP is an unofficial or an official bootleg? I always thought the latter, but most online discographies don't seem to agree.

  6. waterisnat: Have to ask, what college radio were you listening to in 1990 that had Tweez - in the limited initial vinyl release on their private Jennifer Hartman label - in heavy rotation? Regardless, I bow to you ;)

    I suspect Live Songs is a winked-at bootleg. Meaning not official, but they didn't give two shits about it. I should try to find my copy - if I didn't sell it that is.

  7. Dear AL, living in Leuven (Belgium) since 1985 has allowed me to tap straight into American guitar rock as well as UK independent music thanks to the joint forces of fantastic Radio Scorpio (http://www.radioscorpio.be/) and fabulous indie record shop JJ Records (http://www.jjrecords.com/). I'm happy to add that both are still going strong after all these years!

  8. Files removed? haha I like the cut of your jib old bean..