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The Absurdity of Fandom: Slint’s Spiderland 30th anniversary

The Louisville band’s masterpiece turns 30 and with it we take an adventure of a different kind.

All good records change shapes and colours over time. Songs are interpreted differently or emerge with an alternative meaning as one gets older and experiences different things in life.

There’s no better example of this than Slint’s Spiderland. An album that probably is my favourite of all time.

A lot of people in their mid-thirties think about a cut-off point where new music is concerned. They shut themselves off to new experiences, already content with the sonic brain food consumed throughout their formative and early adult years. Music takes a backseat, where the focus is towards families or careers, with the hunt for something new providing too large a task within the structures of a day.

While I’ll never understand this way of thinking, at the very least an album like Spiderland could be a valid reason for those who choose to implement this cut-off point. With an album so good, the question should be asked: does one really need anything else?

Spiderland takes many years to fully capture its true essence. It did for me, anyway. At the first time of listening, admittedly, my tastes were far more attuned to the more ‘conventional’ leanings of Slint’s debut album, Tweez.

I was as confused as a 17-year-old Brian McMahon sat inside his parent’s idle car in the garage, headphones and tape recorder on, laying down the fragile vocals that would form the heart of Spiderland.

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Despite not falling in love with Spiderland at the first engagement, it still possessed a strange quality that made you want to discover similar esoteric music.

Spiderland acted as an irregular composite. Some obscure, subconscious reference point and it’s not until discovering new music outside of its realm (and let’s be honest, it’s an album that is the sole occupant of its kingdom) that the true picture began to unravel more and more each time you listened to it.

It took a good six years to finally understand the importance of this record. It may have been because of those life-changing moments one goes through where the meaning of a song changes and morphs to fit your own narrative.

The band’s landscape of existence certainly had something to do with it, too. Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, an American city boasting a population of around 750,000 people, on the back of a fierce ’80s hardcore scene, little did Slint know that they would continue the city’s cultural groundswell, with Louisville being celebrated in the same breath as places like Chapel Hill, Athens, and Olympia – bedrocks of ’90s underground music in the United States.

Having grown up a small town, I’ve always gravitated towards bands from similar environments whereby the arts were more of a microcosm than a widespread cultural existence. It’s always been a kind of subconscious thing.

Even when listening to a band without knowing their history, there’s something where you can sense a modesty or an aloofness – unspoken truths that confirm that these artists aren’t bred from larger metropolitan areas. Like Slint, Polvo are a perfect case in point. Countless others, too, of course.

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In the December of 2013 at Camber Sands where Slint performed at the final All Tomorrow’s Parties weekend, I met Slint guitarist, David Pajo, and we got talking about this very subject. He agreed that there was a nexus between regional-based artists and the like-mindedness with those who grew up in smaller cities and towns.

As for Spiderland itself, there’s not much more that needs to be said other than projecting personal tales and thoughts. Books have been authored, essays written and, last but not least, documentaries have been made, which combine perfectly to tell the story of this complete and utter masterpiece.

We could talk about the unbridled virtuoso of Britt Walford. Or the lyrical genius of Brian McMahon. Or the linchpin and technical proficiency of David Pajo. Or Todd Brashear‘s lurching bass lines that just about hold Spiderland together. Or the album’s iconic artwork.

Not today, though.

Slint

Rather than wax lyrical about its legend, perhaps a fresh angle is needed. In this case it’s a fun one. Tapping into inner fandom, if you will.

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself:

“Why is Spiderland my favourite record of all time despite Slint not being my favourite band?”

It’s a question that leads to many more.

Is it because of Slint’s short existence? After all, Spiderland was released after Slint had split up, with the band themselves unsure whether Touch and Go Records would actually release it.

Does a band that were still in their formative years qualify for such an accolade where artists like, for instance, Low, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, Holy Sons, (insert many other bands) have spent years making music that is equally striking?

Would the legacy of Slint be tarnished if they continued to produce albums that didn’t lay a glove on such a high water-mark? Perhaps even made a dud album or two…

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Maybe their legend would have reduced had they continued and not captured that same artistic flare which was showcased on Spiderland? Brian McMahon captured something on The For Carnation’s self-titled debut – an underrated album that didn’t garner anywhere near the plaudits it deserved at the time of its release.

Will Spiderland actually be my favourite album until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil?

All valid questions. The answer?

There isn’t one. To any of these questions, really. It’s all objective, if not equally ridiculous. And after all, who really cares?

Have a think to yourself, though. Has this line of questioning created your own conundrum?

Maybe your favourite bands are the ones that you grew up with, where each album represented that particularly time in your life? If that’s the case, does artistic significance even matter? And if these bands are still your favourites then does the question of nostalgia come into play?

Questions, questions questions…

On nostalgia and Spiderland, Slint did reform. And yes, like many, I was lucky enough to have seen them on two occasions. But where nostalgia is concerned, I don’t think it really qualifies for this debate. Suffice to say, though, a band like Slint more than deserved to take their victory lap.

Post-Spiderland, members of Slint went on to be involved in a slew of projects that will be defined as cult classics of the underground. Including the aforementioned The For Carnation which was spearheaded by McMahon, Walford had a dalliance with The Breeders‘ on their first record, Pod, Evergreen, and later formed the post-rock outfit, Watter, alongside Tyler Trotter and former Grails member, Zak Riles.

Pajo has by far and away been the most active, most notably as a solo artist and his endeavours with the early incarnations of Tortoise. There are many others (including The For Carnation), and in truth Pajo‘s journey alone deserves its own column inches to highlight just how important his achievements beyond Slint have been.

So Spiderland is 30 years young and that shape-shifting continues. A flawless work that probes, forever asking questions. Even a succession of absurd ones as mentioned above.

That’s what being a fan is all about. Engaging in such artistic significance that provides a vista of possibilities. The kind of possibilities that send your senses wild.

And there is no better example than Slint‘s Spiderland.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

13 replies on “The Absurdity of Fandom: Slint’s Spiderland 30th anniversary”

Spiderland is on my cd shelf and has been for perhaps 20 years. It has survived many culls! But I don’t really know why. I rarely play it. It’s an album that seems to require being in a certain frame of mind – what that is, I don’t know! But I can play elements of it before I think, ‘OK, time for something else.’ But I would never ditch it. I think that somewhere in my brain I must realise that it is one of those slow burning, classic albums. I watched the Breadcrumb Trail couple of years back and thought it was an amazing story and it only endeared Slint to me more. I shall endeavour. Thanks!

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