Slint – Spiderland

A Different Kind of Darkness

album review

The first time I listened to this, I hated it. It was early in my post rock journey; I had been to my first Sigur Rós concert and listened to a couple of bands in the same vein, thinking that’s what post rock “meant”: vast expanses of instrumental music which take you on a journey and penetrate your soul. So when I started delving deeper, thirsty for more of the same, I invariably came across this album, mentioned across multiple forums and reviews and lauded as one of the very best in the genre.

So imagine my surprise when I finally got my hands on it, switched it on, and was presented by a raw, unpolished series of six songs which felt, at the time, more like grunge (which is really not my thing) than anything else. Worse still, it had vocals! What was everyone on about? This wasn’t post rock as I knew and loved it. I gave it one shot, then parked it as a disappointing discovery, and steered clear of it.

Fifteen or so years of listening to a multitude of post rock bands later, I felt I couldn’t avoid it any more. It kept coming up, time and time again: the epic review from none other than Steve Albini, who famously gave it “ten fucking stars”, must mean something. So I tried it again.

And boy, was I wrong. I feel stupid for not realising sooner, but I think my tastes needed to evolve. Now that I’ve spent time listening to so many different styles within the loosely-defined genre that is post rock, I get it. It’s not a “hype album” you have to like because you’re uncool or non-knowledgeable if you don’t. There are plenty of albums out there which people adore and I just can’t get into. But Spiderland is… something else. It’s difficult to describe, and it’s very difficult to review. Which is what makes it a great album review to start this website on. 

Years later, I’ve listened to Spiderland hundreds of times, and each listen doesn’t get any easier. It’s been called the “ground zero of post rock” — and that really is an excellent way of describing it. The whole album feels like we’re listening in to a garage band rehearsing: raw, gritty and yet polished and incredibly well-crafted. It’s clear that a lot of work went into each song: the band plays loosely, but they’re in complete control of their instruments and very respectful to each other. 

It’s crazy to think how young these four guys from Louisville, Kentucky, were at the time of recording this: at the same age, I had my own bands and we were excited by making music, but we were desperately trying to craft originality through mimicking the bands we listened to, “stealing” inspiration and turning it into our own creations. Those have faded away: none of the band members I played with even remember any of the songs we wrote. Conversely, Slint’s masterpiece has only grown from strength to strength, and the reason for that is because it’s unlike anything that had ever existed. I find it hard to compare it to anything else which exists to date. 

Spiderland starts off on a sweet harmonic riff repeated multiple times, interrupted almost immediately by a narrative vocal which is both hard to understand and hard to hear, buried in the music. The opener, Breadcrumb Trail, immediately disorients you: 1 minute 20 seconds into into it, you’re still not sure what you’re listening to and what to expect. Then suddenly it explodes: almost gracefully, yet vengefully, it suddenly turns into an agonising organised mess of sounds which work perfectly together. The rest of the song veers in a similar fashion: respectfully ignoring the metronome and focusing on what needs to be done to get things said. 

Listening closely, you can immediately seeing how Spiderland influenced so many sub genres, including math rock: the band is extremely tight and know exactly what they’re doing, yet they’re steering the song almost as if they were all drunk. It’s perfect in its chaotic atmosphere: and as suddenly as the chaos started, Breadcrumb Trail goes back to where it started. Six minutes into the album, and you’re genuinely unsure what you just listened to. But it feels important.

The rest of the album flows in a similar fashion, but gets broodier and heavier the deeper you go: Nosferatu Man, the next track has a deep, dark brooding bass line which disappears yet hangs over the whole song until it breaks into quasi-grunge. But what’s different here is how this music hits you: grunge and similar styles stir up rage, anger, and a slew of similar emotions. This stirs up emotions on the same dark spectrum, but is rich with sadness, regret, apprehension: it feels like you want to be angry, but it’s a silent rage which doesn’t really ever make you want to punch a wall. 

I’m not really sure that works as a description: I told you this was incredibly hard to describe and review appropriately, so my apologies if the adjectives I’m using feel odd. It’s also my first ever review, which feels appropriate: this is my own “ground zero” for the site, so it might be messy and slightly awkwardly raw but it’s where it begins.

Spiderland feels like it pauses for breath with Don, Aman, the third track and the only one without drums. But if anything this only serves to make it darker, heavier: a spike of raw guitar riffing in the middle of the track and then a short snippet of it at the end passing by remind you of the dangerous emotions this album explores. 

Washer hits next: this to me is my favourite track, and the one I listen to most often from the whole album. Its melodic, charming riff feels lulls you into a morose sense of safety. I don’t understand why this track hits me so deeply, but everything just works. You can very clearly hear the emotion many post rock albums considered to be classics emphasise: Washer brings it to the fore, leading you at length into its darkness then hitting you with a massive burst at the very end which feels almost violent, yet appropriate, fading away back into nothingness after 8 minutes. 

For Dinner broods heavily following Washer: the only instrumental track on the album, it tells a story of pending doom, of dark black clouds overhead waiting to burst but which never really do. It’s apprehensive and ends with an expectation: you’re not sure why it’s over, but it is, and that feels right. 

Good Morning, Captain is the final track brings all the album together: the sense of danger, heavy and consistent sense of heading somewhere uncertain and dark: six minutes of pure build-up which wells and disappears, then suddenly explodes at the very last minute, ending on the screams of “I miss you” hitting you like a brick. And as fast as it appears, the sudden explosion is cut short: one final riff, and a guitar allowed to linger on a final note suddenly cut off. 

At the end of this album, you’re disoriented, unsure of what just happened, and are left with a dark sense of unease you can’t shake off. Something magnificent just happened, and you’re not sure where: but you certainly need to listen to it again to try and figure it out.

You won’t. And that’s the beauty of it: it works perfectly, and I’m not sure why it does. But this album deserves every single one of the ten fucking stars it gets, every time. Game changer. There’s nothing else like it, and there very probably will never be. 

Rating: 10/10

Moods: Brooding, Dark, Apprehensive





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