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August 12, 2013 | by  | in Arts Music |
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Slint – Spiderland (1991)

Formula for creating the most essential album in the rock canon is as follows: get Will Oldham to suss out the cover art; ensure two of your members are institutionalised during the recording process; take a slab of rock ‘n’ roll, bleach it of all bombast and formula and deface the remains. Rinse. Repeat. Fuck around with crystalline silences (or ‘moments of negative space’), spoken-word narratives with instrumental ‘fill-in-the-gaps’ segments, ice-cold harmonics. Keep the album playful at the beginning; conclude with one of the most intense-cum-powerful-cum-emotionally-strained climaxes heard before or since. Serves multitudes.

If you haven’t heard this before, then prepare to lurch about your room to the vaudeville camp of ‘Nosferatu Man’, get seriously introspective throughout the mournful ‘Washer’, feel briefly comforted by ‘For Dinner…’ before ‘Good Morning, Captain’ blows the whole thing out of the fucking water (choice of words here: apt). ‘Don, Aman’, meanwhile, is every shitty party you’ve ever been to (or, perhaps, every good party you’ve felt like shit at), distilled into six minutes of neurotic terror. Have you ever showed a friend a video you thought hilarious only to get stony-faced silence in response? Imagine that moment of awkwardness and panic (“Come on man, not even a chuckle?”) stretched out interminably, mercilessly. It’s such an acute representation of loneliness/alienation that I’d consider using it as a litmus test on people to see if they’re really as hopeless as all that. Dissidents would, of course, be shot.

The moments of genius come thick and fast. In ‘Nosferatu Man’, the lyric “I can be settled down / and doing just fine / ‘til I hear that old train / rolling down the line” chills me every time. The three-note progression that comprises ‘Don, Aman’’s segue (at the 2.02 mark, if you want specifics) conjures ominousness perfectly, the Spartan minimalism of the lingering notes powerful enough to (a)rouse Morton Feldman from his grave and adhere to Mark Hollis’ rule: “Before you play two notes, learn how to play one note—and don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it.” Then there’s the famed climax, the final minute of ‘Good Morning, Captain’ that, in a way, the whole album leads up to. The yowling, distortion-drenched guitars, the abrupt screams of “I MISS YOUUUU” (let’s be real; who doesn’t like a bit of cheese with their wine), although the song as a whole is successful, not just this moment of instant gratification. It is a wild ride (grab yourself a cold one), infusing nods to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a hypnotic riff that distorts, mutates and implodes, drumming that begins endearingly off-kilter and ends up deranged, and an entire minute of tremolo-picked harmonics (a feat that, as guitarists know, is as difficult to pull off as the most elaborate of solos).

A couple of other things to note: the liner notes of the CD cheekily insist that the album should be heard on vinyl, and, at the risk of sounding like a purist wanker, I concur. It’s fucking ace on the wax; put it on loud enough and it practically seeps from the walls. It is also appropriately named, an often sinister listen that creepy-crawls its way under your skin with gleeful ease. As such, it is accused of being impenetrable, too cold and too minimal for its own good. I’ll level with you – the first time I heard it I loved ‘Good Morning, Captain’ and ‘Nosferatu Man’, but abhorred the rest. Falling in love with it, once it clicked, took mere seconds.

Having hopefully convinced you of its brilliance, grant me a personal flourish. If Kid A was the album that converted me from just a guy who really, really liked music into someone head-over-heels in love with it, Spiderland was the album that convinced me to explore outside the canon. That it was so close to being left to toil in obscurity (with Steve Albini’s ten-star review, a vocal cult following and the internet saving the day) made me wonder what else was out there, what gems got lost in the shuffle. Also worth mentioning: I have heard this album heaps. I know every drum fill, every snaking guitar line, I can recite the lyrics to ‘Don’ by heart. When I listened to it this morning, I still got goosebumps. Submerge yourself in the sublime—this is a gift that keeps on giving.


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  1. Josh Wright says:

    Loved this review, Philip. It actually drew me to listen to Spiderland—have been meaning to for a long time. ‘Good Morning, Captain’ is fuckin great.

  2. Philip says:

    Thanks dawg! Yeah it’s fucking baller, stone-cold-classic 4eva

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