Thursday, 22 January 2009



For me this is the secret Nevermind.  The epic album that people in the know love and worship, the badge of honour that qualifies an alt rock fan’s credentials.  Even though both records were released in the same year in many ways Spiderland has had the longer influence, serving to sculpt and expand guitar music with what was the template for math and post rock.  The cover photo taken by Will Oldham features the members of the band up to their necks in water and it has been said the baby on the cover of Nevermind is swimming beneath them.

Spiderland is only six songs and forty minutes in length.  And yet somehow within such a short distance they managed to make one almighty impact.

In some ways this is like a grunge Marquee Moon, there is a lot of narrative attached to the songs that is steeped with haunted imagery.  So as a result it is a vast and affecting album taking music places where it has not been before.

At the time of release this record didn’t make much of a dent.  Indeed by this time the band had split up and with a lack of information or knowledge circumstances a legend was born including tales of how at the completion of the album the various band members check themselves into psychiatric institutions.  Why let the truth in the way of a good story?

Subsequently over the years the common entry point for this record has been the appearance of “Good Morning, Captain” on the Kids soundtrack followed by constant name checks from Mogwai in their early years.  And over the years since discovering the record it has been a recurring constant on my stereo first beginning as cassette copied from my Gringo Records partner’s vinyl (with “Dare To Be Surprised” by Folk Implosion on the other side) then returning digitally to my iPods and iPhones.  Is this the way it was designed to be listened?  Definitely not but access is vital.  And whereas I have aged and not matured, the piece has stayed timeless.

My most vivid memory at the hands of the album came after a failed date in early 1997.  The night went to the dogs as a date with my cousin’s ginger bridesmaid called Nicky proved a flat and depressing affair.  She was impressed by the concept of me but not the reality.  And when it ended early the night was still young, too young to return home on so instead I drove to Frinton seafront in Essex and took in the dark evening to sound of Spiderland just as a storm started and when “Good Morning, Captain” kicked into the final lap of the album a magnificent hail of rain and lightening descend on my car and surroundings.  It felt a big gesture for a big moment in time for me.  This was the night that I fully felt Slint.  I never saw Nicky again but the record remained.

Fast forward more than ten years later and suddenly I am seeing another lady called Nikki.  This time the woman is black and Canadian as at this point we have just broken up (well, I have been dumped).  It is the Thursday before Christmas and I have decided to turn up at apartment unannounced.  She is already angry and I know this is just going to make her angrier but in the grand scheme of things, it is a gesture that needs to made/done.  The place is Brockley, I have now moved from Essex to London where the world darker and somewhat more sinister.  And as I brace myself to walk up to her front door and make the knock “Washer” appears by random on shuffle via my iPhone.  The haunting is painfully appropriate to what is about to occur with my step into the unknown.  It is also at this point I realise/recognise how much the vocals of Brian McMahon sound like Weird Al Yankovic.  What am I?  Needless to say the moment peaks here.  Nikki does not respond positively to my arrival, does not say “I know its dark outside” or anything as poetic as “wash your face with your tears”.  Instead once more Slint make all the emotional flow on this evening.

The earliest champion of the band was Steve Albini even though he removed from production duties for this record after his work on Tweez which itself caused band member bassist Ethan Buckler to leave the band.  Vocally he reviewed the album for Melody Maker giving it “ten fucking stars”, the kind of endorsement some bands would later pay thousands for.  Perhaps it was just not their time.

I once interviewed guitarist Dave Pajo and long after the event he wasn’t shy about addressing Slint, more bemused by the interest it was now generating some seven or so years after the event.  This was before the reformation.

It begins with “Breadcrumb Trail” which naturally conjures up imagery of Hansel and Gretel being lead through the forest to a sinister trap.  However the witch here is a fortune teller.  And a carny is never one to be trusted.

The track is a gradual builder that sees proceedings opened in story like fashion.  There feel’s something gothic attached to the tale of a day spent at the carnival, almost the musical embodiment of Something Wicked This Way Comes.  Maybe Bradbury by accident there is a heavy sense of literature thread through it’s exploding surroundings.

The guitars are fuzzy playing off the quiet loud quiet format in a groundbreaking fashion.  The opening notes interweave in tandem with the other instruments until it pauses and explodes at the one minute twenty three mark.  Suddenly the whole piece flies off in a whirl as the guitars raise the roof and the vocals become screams.  It’s a dizzying feat containing piercing high-pitched licks that were to become the trademark of both Slint and post-rock in general.  It’s a lumbering beast of a revelation that audibly displays the guitar hanging in the air for an extended period offering the band and the listener a moment to breathe and recapture their composition.  Then by the close of proceedings the shredding guitar is sounding like saxophone.

Spiderland was recorded in four days over two weekends at a studio that generally only recorded radio jingles.  Adopting the old blues methodology of one man playing into one microphone and humanity prevailing much of the album was recorded live by people barely in their twenties that had written and rehearsed the shit out of these songs.  It remains an incredibly discipline feat.

“Nosferatu Man” has the biggest drive on the album.  When the album was discovered during the post-rock frenzy of the late nineties absolutely every such band had their own “Nosferatu Man” rip off, a track with the classic harsh stop start dynamic.  Of course the track is so much more than that.  The initial knock on wood of the snare feels like the ballast of a pirate ship as the brooding bass carries the track as a voice appears to speak code to a twinkling guitar lick.  Then it all explodes.  In addition to being great in its own right, over the years this track has come to smell like Nirvana to me with said dense baseline carrying the song into a distinct quiet loud quiet dynamic as all eventually ramps into wreckage.  This is powerful stuff.

Side A concludes with “Don, Aman” and another distant, dark lullaby.  With this track the literary narration of the lyrics take a step up as a singularly strummed guitar accompany the story of a man up to no good suffering a paranoid panic attack at a party.  Then a third of the way and an injection of pace is added as the story speeds up and races to a horror that seems/feels inevitable.  And with the dirty work done and two minutes left distorted guitar licks take centre stage before Don wakes up for one final revelation.  The song is a bad scene.

This album was meant to be listened to on vinyl.

Moving into a more delicate territory “Washer” opens the second side with almost nine minutes of drenching emotion as the band continues to calmly pick at the pieces.  This is another lullaby, albeit it on without less overt panic and fear.  The playing is classic, gorgeous and brooding, exuding agony in a stoic.  The direction taken in the music is minimal while also overwhelming.  The words spoken by McMahon appear in place as a gesture of assurance in the most direct vocal manner Slint would ever employ.  There is a sense of abandonment and sense of escape enveloped in these minutes and thus when it all eventually erupts and explodes like a violent storm there can be no surprise attached.

When the dust settles “For Dinner…” emerges through the fog as a five minute instrumental of high tension that exudes like the aftermath and outro of a storm.  Equally it could be a Hitchcock score following some sinister character as he makes his move towards a costly inevitable.

Clocking in at seven minutes and thirty nine seconds “Good Morning, Captain” is the most famous Slint track.  And it ends Spiderland in majestic and cinematic fashion.  It is a booming and intense that flourishes and grows only stronger throughout the duration of it’s existence.

Keeping with the tortured soul and subtle horror again there is a ghostly marine feel to the song as the opening bars of the track ring like the bell of a ghost ship emerging from the mist in the distance.  With that Brashear drops in another heavy baseline they appears to rock from side to side and perform the duty as pulse to the piece.  From here McMahon drops in more angst ridden vocals in the style of a frightened child as the guitars drop in and out with spooky refrains.  Then at one minute fifty two seconds there is a detonation as things take flight.

By the third act there are calls for help as the track begins to tick as apprehension grows until one final hellfire surge of chorus takes hold at which this time the guitars really grip the reigns of the song and McMahon repeatedly screams “I miss you!” in a most pained gesture.

When the record ends it deserves silence and reflection.  Spiderland is no ordinary album.  If you have never heard it, you have never heard music.

Thesaurus moment: paradigm.

Monday, 5 January 2009



Six packs are amazing things.  They have two meanings (three if you include this song).  The first is likely to get you intoxicated in a potentially sociable manner while the other is a nod to fitness, to good health, to gearing your body towards getting laid.  All in all these are powerful personal movements, decisions and times attached to being and adventure.

“Six Pack” is one of Black Flag’s satire tracks.  I guess Greg Ginn would claim it to be satire but the humour is just too broad, too base to be that subtle.  On a visceral level, it hits like a sledgehammer.  The song’s structure is similar to “TV Party” with its call and response chorus and general loutish behaviour.  It is also a party song.

The track begins with a very sloppy (almost drunk) baseline accompanied by a very basic click track.  Then thirty seconds in the scratchy Ginn guitar drops in as eventually all explodes as Dez Cadena lurches in with a drunken vocal storm.  As the song arrives at the chorus it all has become quite life affirming in the most loutish manner imaginable.

Stepping up next is the equally incendiary “I’ve Heard It Before” which also benefits from an extended build up to one enormous pay off.  Once the song takes hold it kicks hard like a mull representing the kind of angered reaction the listener would dream of shouting at the authority figures in their life.  This was vicarious wish fulfilment.

Perfectly formed the seven inch closes with “American Waste”, a Chuck Dukowski penned zinger that stomps on the scenery before flying off into ether barely busting the ninety second mark.  Its all about identity and knowing where you fit on the food chain.

Three songs six minutes.  Long enough for a life to change.

Thesaurus moment: party.

Friday, 2 January 2009



With my entry point to Pavement being Wowee Zowee this compilation felt something of a rude awakening when picked up and sampled.  These weren’t songs, they were jams.  And I did not yet know what jams were.

For the longest time I worked with this record, attempted to force myself to like it.  I borrowed it from my local library, copied it onto a cassette (with Green by REM on the other side) and played it in my Ford Escort trying desperately to uncover some hooks and/or rhythms.  My friend Metal Dan also borrowed it from the library and openly mocked me for liking the band and I could not defend my decision based on these tracks alone.

Gradually a few songs began to shine through (such as “Debris Slide” and “From Now On”) but on the whole it was too meticulous and playful to intricately examine.  I had barely discovered The Fall and had yet to learn that such obstinance was permissible.  Certainly when I tried it on at home with my mother in earshot it was deemed not right.  That said I had heard Guided By Voices by this stage (Alien Lanes) so short songs were beginning to make sense to me.

This was actually the album I listened to in the car on the night that I met my future cohorts in Gringo Records.  I was driving up on my way to a Urusei Yatsura gig at the Colchester Arts Centre still trying to get a handle on lo-fi.  Indeed during the gig I would find myself disagreeing with Tom later of Hirameka who insisted that Urusei sounded like the Pixies when they blatantly ransacked “Spizzle Trunk” on their own track “Pow R. Ball”.

Westing is a collection of the band’s first three EPs and its first single and b-sides.  Offered in chronology it is Slay Tracks (1933-1969), Demolition Plot J-7 and Perfect Sound Forever.  Originally just Malkmus and Kannberg, Slay Tracks was recorded while the band members lived on opposite sides of America before the band even had its name.  Gradually drummer Gary Young was roped in but by the release of the 10 inch Perfect Sound Forever Malkmus had left the band to be a museum guard in Virginia where he had gone to university and met Nastanovich and David Berman of the Silver Jews who they initially backed and played in.  Of course finally they got back going, got back on the horse.

It begins with the hiss of “You’re Killing Me”.  This could be the sound of a Disney snake.  With this the next track “Box Elder” expresses the desire to “get the fuck out of this town”.  From the off this was not a normal band.  And “Maybe, Maybe” gives off the impression that it is using Coke bottles for drums.

Throughout distortion and feedback is the rock.  “She Believes” emerges like the beginning of the Nirvana lost track “Endless Nameless” without actually going anywhere.  Indeed more than once the band gives off the impression that they do not know how to finish a song yet.  And on that note “Heckler Spray” is best described as the sounding like the beginning of something great without actually getting there.

As they continue to mess around “Mercy: The Laundromat” sounds like a cack-handed drunk nursery rhyme while “Krell Vid-User” resembles the tuning of a radio.

Towards the end we arrive at “Summer Baby” (also known as “Summer Babe”) which is probably the first sensible song/track the band recorded.  Sat chronological it is distinctly noticeable how the songs of the band have developed by the end as “Baptiss Blacktick” offers the most vibrant and lively atonement while “My First Mine” with its Fall crossed with Beefheart plod actually holds a chorus and a hook.  It sounds like “Gramme Friday” from Grotesque.  Well done.

Listening to this collection is not an enjoyable experience.

Thesaurus moment: jejune.