Thursday, June 14, 2012

Slint- Spiderland (1991): (86%)

Currently in Fort Wayne, we’re experiencing a drought. I can’t remember the last time we had a decent rain shower that lasted for more than 15 minutes. I can barely even remember the last time we had clouds that acted like they wanted to storm, but instead scattered a few drops like an old man with prostate problems. I am especially disappointed by this because I love the rain. I love the way it smells, I love the way it feels on my skin, I love the way it sounds as it pitter-pats on my window, I love the shade of darkness that accompanies it, and above all I love the sense of peace and calm I receive whenever the clouds turn gray and release their load of accumulated precipitation. If I know I’m disappointed, I can only imagine how disappointed the local farmers are with this seemingly perpetual string of 80-90 degree days with plenty of sun, little humidity…and no friggin’ rain. These days, I don’t even bother listening to the weatherman hype a 30% chance of a scattered thunderstorm.

Which really sucks because I recently discovered this record. To listen to a grim record like this on a perfectly bright and sunny day makes no sense whatsoever. Even listening to this record at night with a clear starry sky doesn’t produce the desired effect. Imagine going to an amusement park for the sole purpose of sitting in the parking lot and watching Requiem for a Dream within the confines of your car on a computer. That’s not to say that listening to this record is a one-way ticket to a bipolar disorder diagnosis (even though at least one of the members of the group had to be institutionalized during the making of this record). There’s plenty of imagination and awe-inspiring material within, just not the kind you’d expect. For instance, the opener “Breadcrumb Trail” starts out innocent enough (relative to the other tracks) with an inviting chord sequence and a tale about an adventure at a fortune telling booth. But then something wonderful happens: it loses this innocence and descends into a sinister grin laced with guitar feedback and hopeless wailing.

This is basically the template for all 6 tracks on Spiderland, Slint’s most acclaimed work. While it basically follows the same formula, occasionally it changes up moods between quiet and somber ambience to harsh and loud riffs. More often than not, it does favor the former sound, thus backing up my claim that this is a record suitable only for miserable looking days. But even the louder portions suggest that a storm needs to be in the background in order to achieve the effect the band intended. Perhaps what conveys this best is the overall production quality led by Brian Paulson, who essentially is a Steve Albini understudy who employs most everything Albini did on their previous album, Tweez. However, I am sure that if Albini produced this record too, it would sound too much like Tweez, which didn’t have quite the same charisma as this does.

I believe it’s called Spiderland for a very good reason. Simply being that the way the songs are written, it is easy to imagine David Pajo and Brian McMahan’s fingers moving up and down the guitar necks much like the way a spider moves its legs up and down a wall. The great thing is that each song is representative of this thoroughly creepy trait. The photo of the spider on the back cover alone speaks volumes for the songs themselves, along with the lyrics, which range from adventure to isolation, anti-social themes to social anxiety, mania to depression, and just to impress your literature professors, “Good Morning, Captain” is dedicated to the gothic imagery of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” To play this for an English major audience would be a stirring experience. The climax of that song alone would be enough to develop a newfound appreciation for what seems like boring and pretentious literature classes.

To repeat some of the best lyrics here would rob you of the brimming imagination and surprise that awaits should you choose to listen. I know that sounds lazy, but trust me, these guys didn’t endure a difficult recording process just so that critics like me could take away some of the magic they created. Like I said, just because this is a depressing, if somewhat disturbing, album doesn’t mean that depressed and disturbed people are its sole target audience. However, considering it only got an indie release on Touch and Go (same label that released the moreso disturbing Butthole Surfers magnum opus, Locust Abortion Technician) maybe it more or less is a test of its prospective audience’s courage to try it. If your curiosity permits a listen, you shall either emerge from the experience rewarded or shaken. Do you dare venture into Spiderland?   

Music: 9/10
Lyrics: 9/10
Length: 8/10
Meaning: 8/10
Significance: 9/10
Overall Impression: 9/10

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