Britt Walford and Brian McMahan met in their pre-teens, and joined the punk band Squirrel Bait while still in their teens. Walford, a drummer, left Squirrel Bait after the band’s first recording sessions, but McMahan stayed on as second guitarist until their dissolution in 1987. Walford and McMahan joined forces with other Louisville, Kentucky musicians to form Slint. David Pajo played guitar, while Ethan Buckler played bass on their debut and Todd Brashear played on Spiderland.
Kentucky seems an unlikely origin for an influential indie band, but the city of Louisville also spawned Will Oldham (better known as Bonnie “Prince” Billy) who’s from the same generation. Slint’s two albums, along with Talk Talk‘s contemporary Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock, defined the rules for the emerging post rock genre at the turn of the 1990s. Slint’s wiry guitar rock is markedly different from Talk Talk’s jazzy, intricately recorded albums, but the deconstruction that Slint apply to hardcore is comparable, which is why the bands are often cited together. Slint only made two records together. They broke up before the release of 1991’s Spiderland – due to the band’s breakup it received little attention at the time, but it’s since been recognised as a classic.
Aside from a two song EP in 1994, Spiderland was Slint’s last recording. The band has played live dates since, but the members have largely concentrated on other projects. Britt Walford has played drums for The Breeders, while Pajo’s been involved in a huge range of projects, from Billy Corgan’s Zwan, to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Tortoise.
Slint Album Reviews
The first of two albums from Slint, Tweez was recorded back in 1987, but not released until 1989. The influence of producer Steve Albini is obvious throughout the record, yet Tweez is dark and fractured in a way that a lot of other Albini projects aren’t. The band’s twisted sense of musicality reaches far beyond Albini’s trademark “sand-blasting” style.
The lack of linear song structures on Tweez shifts the focus on to the shifting textures and dynamics, which is where the post-rock tag originated. Tweez is a captivating listen in terms of sound; the way that the band ignore rock conventions to pursue a more intellectualized, progressive and even mathematical approach to music making. This approach was largely unprecedented and influential. Rockers like ‘Charlotte’ don’t sound too far removed from what At The Drive In were making 15 years later, but vocals are often forgone in favour of spoken anecdotes or sound effects.
Despite the fresh approach, Tweez is short of memorable individual songs; the group corralled their unique sound into more interesting material on their sophomore effort. Of the nine songs, the first eight are named after the parents of the four members, and the final is named after drummer Britt Walford’s dog.
At less that 30 minutes, and lacking in memorable individual songs, I’d be cautious about paying too much for Tweez, but nonetheless it’s a fascinating touchstone in the history of rock’s deconstruction.
Slint broke up before the release of Spiderland – McMahan was in a near-fatal car accident before recording, and it left him fighting against depression. Spiderland had little commercial impact at the time of release, but it’s since been recognised as alternative classic and extremely influential record. What’s remarkable is the range of moods and textures that the band is able to coax out of a simple two guitar, bass, and drums band – it’s often pointed to as a pioneering record for post rock, but most other post-rock bands have a more a wider sound sound palette. It takes multiple listens for these songs to sink in, but Spiderland is a fascinating record; there’s plenty happening with the shifting time signatures, the uniquely dry sonic palette and production, and the expert use of dynamics. The iconic black and white cover photo with the four band members immersed in water was taken by fellow Kentucky musician Will Oldham.
The most accessible material is at either end of the album – the precise riffs of the opening ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ and the album’s best-known song is the cathartic ‘Good Morning, Captain’ both feature relatively audible vocals and almost headbanging climaxes. ‘Nosferatu Man’ is surprisingly abrasive and heavy with its constant guitar riffs, while ‘Don Aman’ slowly simmers over its ominous four minutes before suddenly launching into bursts of guitar noise. ‘Washer’ probably covers the most stylistic ground on the album over its nine-minute running time. The only disappointment is the penultimate ‘For Dinner’, non-eventful apart from the spasms of guitar noise.
Spiderland is a landmark record that every open-minded rock fan should experience, idiosyncratic and personable.
Return to 1990s Album Reviews…