The Past Presents revisits revered albums from the past 20-25 years to ask the question, “Is this album still a classic, or has it lost its edge over the years?”. Was it a great record for that particular time and place, or is it something we’ll be passing on to our kids? It also looks at the “lost classics” – countless albums that should have earned more attention but for one reason or another fell through the cracks.
At this point it’s safe to say that most people who consider themselves obsessive music fans have seen the move High Fidelity. One of the classic moments of the film sees Jack Black’s character assisting a customer with records that are essential to his collection such as the Jesus and Mary Chain and Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Black slyly tells the customer, “Don’t tell anyone you don’t own Blonde on Blonde. It’s going to be okay.”
If there ever was a modern equivalent to Blonde on Blonde, it’s Slint’s Spiderland. Let’s be clear, Spiderland is not similar to Dylan’s classic in its sound, but it is similar in that it has become a record that you need to own, or at the very least be aware of.
When Slint quietly released Spiderland in 1991, I was too busy freaking out over Nirvana and Sonic Youth to notice, but by 1993 I was one board 100%. Unlike many albums, the noise surrounding this record has grown every year since. It is considered one of the first, if not the first record, to bear the post-rock and or math-rock tags and it is still known as one of the best of the genre. For my money, it’s also one of the best examples of an album’s ability to generate a mood. From start to finish Spiderland gives you the feeling that something sinister is about to happen. The tension is apparent throughout the album and is intensified by the seasickness the music induces. It sounds like a ship bobbing on rough seas; the music in constant motion, rocking back and forth and never letting you forget that something evil is to be unleashed.
I hate to talk about the individual songs on Spiderland as it really needs to be heard as an album; however, there is no denying that if Slint ever had a “hit” it is the album’s final track, “Good Morning Captain.” This song is about as intense as they come. Like much of the album, “Good Morning Captain” never builds to a climax; the tensions remain hushed and stifled until they explode; there really is no build up. Then there is “Washer,” the sleeper hit of Spiderland. In the end, though, it is not a mere collection of songs, or something where you grab a song or two for your Spotify playlist; it’s an album you listen to from start to finish. All, or nothing.
More than twenty years after its release, Spiderland remains a vital, relevant and even current piece of music. It was a genre-defining album that has justifiably become greater with time. Unfortunately, Spiderland was also the pinnacle of Slint’s career, as none of the band members achieved anything close to its success again. Considering it was released during “The Year Punk Broke,” it’s amazing that it survived, let alone became the seminal album it is today. If you haven’t heard Spiderland please go find it when you have time to actually listen and immerse yourself in it.
But whatever you do, don’t tell anyone you haven’t heard Spiderland. It’s going to be okay.