Slint - Spiderland (1991, Touch & Go)
Slint’s classic 1991 album Spiderland is frequently cited as being one of the first “post-rock” albums. Without a doubt, its quiet-loud dynamics, unorthodox time signatures, complex instrumentation, and straying from traditional verse-chorus-verse song structures has certainly proved highly influential in the work of many of the crescendo-laden and largely purely instrumental bands that are described with that term these days.
However, unlike Mono and Explosions in the Sky and many of these other bands following in Slint’s footsteps – who tend to use the now-common tropes of ‘post-rock’ to produce lengthy, emotionally overblown, cinematic instrumentals – Slint, on Spiderland, can be heard using such techniques primarily to unsettle the listener. Take a track like ‘For Dinner...’, for example, in which guitars, bass and drums frequently swell gradually from a state of near inaudibility to an intense loudness in a way that suggests the approach of creeping footsteps or an unexpected (and presumably unwanted) knock at the door; or a track like the now-legendary ‘Good Morning, Captain’, which builds up through creeping ‘spidery’ guitar lines and hushed, reedy spoken word vocals to end in a squall of thrashing guitars, crashing drums, and aggressively angst-ridden screams of “I miss you”.
In fact, we could say that almost everything about this album is designed to unsettle the listener... Brian McMahon’s mumbling / shouting of vague lyrics that allude to fortune tellers, depression, and Rime of the Ancient Mariner; the mystery behind the album’s recording, and the oft-repeated rumour that all the members of Slint were temporarily institutionalised because of the emotional intensity of the recording sessions; the ominous cover, a strange black-and-white photograph (taken by Will Oldham) of the four members of Slint in a lake staring oddly and grinning at the camera.
It’s a shame that Slint never released another LP again under that name, and that their previous album Tweez – despite being a decent post-hardcore / noise-rock curio in its own right – pales somewhat in comparison to Spiderland. But this album, nevertheless, stands to this day as a brilliantly dark and thrillingly ambitious masterpiece from a band that has influenced countless followers, but has never been really replicated or matched since.
(courtesy of YouTube user, TheVoiceAndTheSnake)
A couple of other related recommendations...
PJ Harvey - The Wind
(courtesy of PJHarveyVevo)
Somewhere on the sleeve of Spiderland is an advertisement with regards to 'interested female vocalists'. Another oft-repeated rumour about this album states that PJ Harvey responded to this advert.
As is known, nothing came of this -- but The Wind - from Harvey's album Is This Desire? - is one of many great PJ Harvey songs that certainly bears the influence of Slint: as can be heard in the track's whispered vocals and the minimalistic, moody guitar work, albeit with the addition of some more accessible elements of trip-hop.
The For Carnation - Emp. Man's Blues
(courtesy of YouTube user caudlerock)
This track - Emp. Man's Blues - is by Brian McMahon's post-Slint project, The For Carnation. It's noticeably more subdued than much of Slint's work, as the influence of the Louisville, Kentucky post-hardcore / math rock scene is eschewed in favour of more overt influences from jazz, blues, and ambient music.
Nevertheless, McMahon's hushed mumbling vocal style remains and, as the arrangement becomes gradually richer with the introduction of more guitars and strings, it's clear to see that McMahon's carried on from his Slint days the talent for crafting an evocative and sombre atmosphere through the intelligent use of dynamics and space.