Popdose Flashback ’91: Slint, “Spiderland”

Written by Music, Popdose Flashback '91

Popdose analyzes a seminal rock album, Slint’s Spiderland, that 80% of the public doesn’t even knows exist.

Released in March 1991, the second album proper from the Louisville scene icons Slint is the sound of youth. Those who have heard the album Spiderland will either know exactly what I’m talking about or vociferously reject my claim, but I stand by it. The question really is, what does the voice of youth actually sound like?

If it was a matter of looking back to where the band came from, specifically Brian MacMahan and Britt Walford’s years in Squirrel Bait, you might say it was anger. If you looked ahead to MacMahan’s post-Slint band The For Carnation, the word might be melancholy. For this album, both feelings intersect, and at that confused nexus is where the voice of youth really resides. In so many ways, the young have the world at their command. They are, after all, part of that magical demographic big business really want to be selling to. They have the luxury of time, and the adventurousness of not having been burned so often that the scar tissue is desensitized.

At the same time, when pain is so fresh and new, it still comes as a shock. Love can get mixed up with desperation so completely that one has subsumed the other; indeed, love has never felt as worthy, or as horrific, as it does when it lists among your firsts. And let’s not forget this angle either – just because corporate America wants their car to be your first car, doesn’t mean they really want to listen to you, or take you seriously for that matter.

So this mish-mash of complexity, having all the time in the world and no way to spend it, having all these emotions rising and no clear way to express them, and having something to say but being marginalized by the dubious opinions of previous generations, all these tumble out in a state of bi-polarity. From a whisper to a scream, from a dragging gait to a speeding rage, and unless you were the big shot in High School with your future already paid for, you probably know exactly what I mean (and if you were the Big Shot, you probably felt the same, but more afraid to let on that you did).

Slint never advanced to the lightning round where the major labels trip over their own feet to grab that magic elixir, put it into their bottles and then try to tinker with the taste. It is probably for the best, and considering that the labels hadn’t yet cottoned to the financial viability of the indie scene in general, and the Louisville/Slamdek Records scene in specific, the isolation allowed these groups to be who they were. In only a couple more years, that would all change.

Slint brings up the old arguments about the Indie Ethic versus the corporate bottom line, and as many arguments as there have been about the vilification of Warner/EMI/Sony/Et.Al., be they justified or not, Spiderland simply could never have come out in your local mall shoppe. A song like “Washer,” where everything builds and builds and builds, never getting to the big sing-along chorus, but inexorably drifts toward the guitar electrocution near the six-and-a-half minute mark, just wouldn’t have made a way to an A&R guy’s tape deck. That raw recording sound would have driven the Gary Gershes and John Kalodner-John Kalodners berserk too.

Spiderland is held in the highest esteem as a landmark record now, as essential an artifact as Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane over the Sea from 1998. It identified a whole other kind of post-rock, it was calculated and composed like a watch with a Swiss movement, but it could bust wide open into the rawest, harshest wavelengths imaginable — kind of like being young.

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