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Slint – Spiderland

Touch & Go

Slint - SpiderlandWe are living in the era of re. Remakes, reissues, reunions and yes, remasters are becoming the staple of our cultural life. I for one have a tendency to resignedly sigh “oh, really?” when I hear of another bit of creative heritage being given a once over, a new lease of life – the defibrillator paddles being applied to the long cold corpse of something that has passed into the mists of time. Things have a time and a place, and even if they were great, their legacy may best be served by leaving them there.

So, in the case of Slint’s 1991 album Spiderland – of which a remastered version is being made available as a vinyl box set, with DVDs, books and various other extras included – the question is, is the reincarnation worthy? In spite of my scepticism, there is particular case in favour of a Spiderland reissue, notwithstanding the hefty price tag.

Spiderland has often been described as a ‘disproportionately influential’ record. This begs the question as to what is its influence out of proportion to? On first hearing that description you might think its impact has been greater than its original quality, but my own take is the fact that its initial release was submarine in terms of profile. Spiderland is a great album, and its sound echoes through a whole heap of music that has been made since. But that influence and recognition has only come in the years that have followed. Despite of the fact that in 1991 I was listening to a lot of music that was contemporary with Spiderland, I only heard it recently. This is part of the reason why this reissue is worthwhile. No doubt the expensive limited edition vinyl box set will appeal to aficionados and collectors or, let’s be honest, hipsters trying to out-hipster each other, but if its release sparks a new wave of interest in this album perhaps that would be no bad thing.

So enough justification. What about the music? Spiderland’s sound flips between beautifully chilling guitar riffs and harmonies and out and out loud, dirty rock. The original recording was made by the band with Brian Paulson in Chicago, whose quasi-live approach brought out the best of the songs’ components. This can be heard by listening to the various demos and four track samplers that come with box set, revealing how the spooky quality and unexpected harmonies were developed.

On its first release Steve Albini (who produced Slint’s first album, Tweez) reviewed the LP for for Melody Maker, where he aptly praised “The crystalline guitar of Brian McMahan and the glassy, fluid guitar of David Pajo seem to hover in space directly past the listener’s nose.” In the remastered version the extra sharpness provides a clarity to the distinctly different guitar parts that enrich the album’s eerie atmosphere. The contrasts, especially on “The Washer,” between the melodic arcs and the distorted crescendos are also enhanced; when the distortions really kick in you don’t end up with noisy mush and the power of the music shines through. The languid drumming of Britt Walford, with its idiosyncratic time signatures, provides a wonderfully angular platform for the melodic arcs and scratchy, urgent strumming. The contrary harmonies are both startling and bitter-sweet. When the album reaches its zenith with “Good Morning Captain,” Todd Brashear’s bassline is sublime and the counterpoint of the guitar riffs that overlay it make for supremely satisfying listening.

There is an irony that this release coincides with the release of the new Jim Jarmusch film, Only Lovers left Alive. One of the main characters in the film, Adam, is an ancient vampire-cum-rock musician who writes music only for himself, but fears that bootleg copies are finding their way out and his house is stalked by rock and roll kids. The music for the film is by Squrl, Jarmusch’s band, which can be added to the list of Spiderland-influenced drone rockers. At one moment in the film, Adam is in a live music bar and notices a shady exchange involving his friend, some cash and some 180gm vinyl. It could almost have been a pre-release copy of the remastered Spiderland as the contraband, rather than a copy of Adam’s secret recordings.

Spiderland is a great album. If you have not heard it before, it is worth tracking down. You may then be disappointed to hear that a whole slew of post-punk music can be traced back to the Spiderland well; and, yes, it has spawned a whole generation of subsequent reinventors, but it deserves to be enjoyed on its own terms.

-Jim Bennett-

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