Back to the '90s: Louisville's Slint helps to define post-rock with 'Spiderland'

In his superb book, “The Secret History of Rock,” Roni Sarig profiles musicians and bands whose influence has far exceeded their commercial success. The last entry is for the youngest of those bands, Louisville’s Slint. Their inclusion in the book is particularly notable: the group only released two albums and broke up a mere seven years before the book was published.

Formed in the wake of the breakup of the hardcore juggernaut known as Squirrel Bait, the members of Slint consciously took a different approach to music than their punk predecessors. It wasn’t more slick and accessible like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, nor was it more raw and unpolished like Pavement and Sebadoh.

Instead it fused the noisier and rougher elements of hardcore with the cinematic scope and skillful musicianship of stoner-metal to produce a slow yet heavy sound that would be frequently imitated in the two decades since the release of their first album.

It was their second release, “Spiderland,” that ultimately had the greatest influence. Comprising just six tracks, each was carefully conceived and delicately performed. The dueling guitars of David Pajo and Brian McMahan wind around each other while Britt Walford’s percussion ranges from atmospheric cymbal taps to heavy bass drum thuds and Todd Brashear’s roaming bass weaves it all together. It wasn’t really punk or metal or prog-rock, it was just Slint.

The reverberations of that six-song album can be heard in the bands members of Slint went on to form: King Kong, Tortoise and the For Carnation as well as fellow travelers Palace (Will Oldham took the iconic cover photo) and Gastr Del Sol. Most of the so-called “post-rock” music of the late ’90s and early aughts could claim “Spiderland” as a touchstone. It’s hard to imagine Shiner, Mogwai or … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead existing in a world without Slint.

The last song on the album, “Good Morning, Captain,” closes with McMahan desperately screaming out “I MISS YOU!” over and over. It’s a truly haunting moment.

Thirteen years later, the band Pinback released a Slint-esqe album called “Summer in Abaddon” whose final song “AFK” ends with the line “I miss you / not in a Slint way / but I miss you.” Though their lifespan was short, Slint is definitely missed. Maybe not in a Slint way, but missed just the same.

— Nicholas Coleman

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