90s Indie Rock Bands and Albums: The Best Band You've Never Heard? Slint.

The Wonder Years: 1986 - 1991

Slint, a relatively unknown band from Louisville, Kentucky, has survived as a cult favorite even though they only released a pair of albums and a single containing less than twenty songs over twenty years ago. The thought that such a thing could happen and that a band could exist as an icon despite such little output has often left me wondering and meditating on Slint.

Why were they so influential? What is it about them that makes me go weak in the knees still? And if they are so good, how come they are still relatively unknown? Questions like these keep me (and anyone else who loves their music) thinking about them long after what it would seem the scope of their body of work should merit. But, here I am, another voice lost in the redundant echo of the internet whispering about a band that once was, Slint.

Slint was a rock band. The members were Brian McMahan (Guitar, Vocals), David Pajo (Guitar), Britt Walford (Drums), and Todd Brashear (Bass on Spiderland) / Ethan Buckler (Bass on Tweez). As I said earlier, they are from Louisville, Kentucky. McMahan and Walford had worked together on projects for a long while and at some point Pajo and Buckler joined in and among projects like Squirrel Bait and Maurice. They didn't officially become Slint until 1986 and they disbanded following the recording of their second album, Spiderland , in 1991.

Many have considered Slint as the first Post-Rock band and that it is this distinction that has given rise to Slint's legacy. The fact that members of Slint went on to play with Tortoise and The For Carnation (Both Post Rock Acts) makes this assertion reasonable. If it is reasonable, we should, then, discuss for a moment Post Rock.

All The Young Dudes From Louisville Kentucky

(image from: http://www.southern.com/southern/band/SLINT/)
(image from: http://www.southern.com/southern/band/SLINT/)

What on Earth is Post-Rock?

Like any good musical term, Post Rock is hard to define because it is defined differently by so many people. Whenever there is a new term, it takes a while for a consensus definition to emerge. This is a linguistic and a social process and not something that can be rushed. I think there are two emergent ideas that inform what has come to be seen as Post Rock that Slint strongly embodies.

The first of these ideas is, at its core, minimalism. It's a restraint present in the song writing and performance of Slint's music that only truly reveals itself over time, or perhaps to the trained ear. Whereas "Rock" is about abandonment, joy, and recklessness, Post Rock is what comes after: knowledge, desire, control. These things are evident in the long structures that build crescendos over two or three minutes, instead of the rushed crescendos that happen in the few seconds between verse and chorus of a "Rock" song. It is also evident in the way the band suddenly begins, and ends, the loudest and most "Rock" sections of their music in their later work, demonstrating control. This idea of controlling the emotion contained in the music is at the core of Slint's aesthetic and it has come to be synonymous with Post Rock as well.

The other idea informing the current understanding of Post Rock that Slint embodies is the idea of having a "Punk" state of mind, without exactly sounding "Punk". This counter culture ideal was realized by Slint at a time and in a way that helped usher in a new wave of bands that did not embrace the reckless aggression of the hardcore punk as much as they did its underlying ethic. This attitude is evident in the persona of the band, in their sound, and in the moments of abandon and disregard for traditional song structure. Slint knew how to rock, but weren't content with the same old song. It was this fresh approach that today's listener can still hear in the music. Whether its the goofy sessions with Steve Albini on Tweez, or the ominous and serious sessions from Spiderland , Slint makes it clear they learned well the lessons of the Hardcore Punk they came evolved out of: no compromises.

So what is Post-Rock? Some say it's some sort of Rock/Electronica/Jazz fusion. Others say its just minimalist rock. In a musical climate saturated with words made up to impress rather than inform, I shy away from hard line definitions and will leave that to someone else. I'd rather just stipulate one that works for our discussion and talk about Slint instead.

A Live Performance from the 2005 Reunion Tour

The Debut Album: 1989's Tweez

(image from: http://www.ifsociety.com/item/slint-tweez-lp)
(image from: http://www.ifsociety.com/item/slint-tweez-lp)

A New Kind of Hardcore

Recorded in 1987 by famed producer Steve Albini, Slint's first album,Tweez, was eventually released in obscurity on the Jennifer Hartman Records label in 1989. It wasn't until after the success of Spiderland, however, that most people heard Tweez. Touch and Go re-released the album in 1993, after the band had split up.

Unlike their second album, Spiderland, Tweez is abrasive upon first listen. The guitars are purposefully distorted in frequencies that make them sound unusual to an ear accustomed to the normal sounds guitars were making back in 1989, or 1993, or 2010 for that matter. The album has many moments of abandon and tom foolery which, rather than holding it back, highlight where the band was at the time in a way that makes the album far more memorable than if they had bothered to be professional about the whole thing. I am not going to say too much along the lines of what they did during recording sessions, but I've heard rumors there are recordings of someone going to the bathroom in one track.


Read More about Slint in 33 1/3!

The music itself is tightly constructed dark punk-metal (if I can use that term), and at moments it breaks out into what sounds more like metal than punk, though many of the lines between genres blurred for the members of Slint in this as well as many of their other projects with being definite about fitting into already defined genres was never being high on their agenda anyway. Overall the songs already show the sing/speak vocals McMahan would perfect on their second album. The driving beat of the drums and bass helped maintain what would otherwise be rock "noise" into grooves that begin to take shape on subsequent listens. It will never be an album for someone who doesn't like lots of distortion, but that could be said about many of 90s Indie Rock bands.

The track "Carol" is one of my favorites as the moment when it kicks in is so viscerally satisfying. Albini's production makes the bass sound powerful and Tweez is no exception to this rule. The lyrics to "Carol" are also indicative of the creepy sing/scream style McMahan used so successfully on their second album. For example, McMahan sings "Past where the river bends, past where the silo stands," before going on to scream "Past where they paint the houses! Past where they paint the houses!" You don't know what's going out there, but after listening to McMahan freak out about it, I don't want to know. Effective.

There isn't a bad song on the album, though not all of them can get under my skin as well as others. The songs "Ron", "Kent", and "Rhonda" are standouts in their own way. Each takes the dark pulsing nature of the rock and mixes it with their unique, hyper-distorted and rhythmically curious lead guitar parts that groove more than you think on first listen. This album is perhaps not seminal, but it's a great listen for any real fan of the band, or student of the evolution of underground music.

The Missing Link: The Self-Titled Two Song EP

(image from: http://www.southern.net/southern/band/SLINT/disc.html)
(image from: http://www.southern.net/southern/band/SLINT/disc.html)

Two Songs That Time Forgot (Almost)

Between the time that Slint was recorded Tweez and Spiderland, they also recorded a couple of other tracks. These tracks were recorded in 1989, but never released. At least not until Touch and Go re-released their first album in 1993, and then decided to release the unreleased tracks as a single a year later. The band may have been broken up, but that didn't mean the single didn't sell. In fact, you can still find it today online.

The single only contains two tracks. One new track and a new version of "Rhoda". I like the new version of Rhoda a bit better than the old, but the old is still one of my favorite on Tweez. Overall, it's just a couple of songs and the single isn't that big of a deal in the grand scope of things, but for any true Slint fan, you have to own it. There are only a few songs total to have, these two would be a shame to be missing these two, especially given the fact they came between two albums that were so sonically different.

Speaking of, sonically, the songs are halfway between the abrasive and aggressive Tweez, and the refined and brooding Spiderland. In this way, it works as a natural bridge between the two stages of Slint's short development as artists.

Want to know more? Get your own Slint from Amazon.com right now.

Spiderland
Spiderland

Spiderland: My favorite track? Whichever one I'm listening to when you ask me.

 
Tweez
Tweez

Steve Albini + Slint = Hard Rock Heaven

 
Slint [Vinyl]
Slint [Vinyl]

Not only the coolest cover of all time, but one of the hardest to find EPs as well. (Well, until it was reissued, that is)

 

The 6 Song Masterpiece: 1991's Spiderland

(image from: http://www.78s.ch/2009/05/25/coverart-slint-spiderland)
(image from: http://www.78s.ch/2009/05/25/coverart-slint-spiderland)

The Minimalist Masterpiece

hen Slint got together to record their second album in August of 1990 with Brian Paulson, something had changed. The album the band recorded this time was careful, meticulous, studied, and mostly quiet. I am not saying that there were not careful, or meticulous parts of Tweez, I am just saying even a cursory listen to the two reveals Spiderland as the obviously more mature of the two offerings we have from Slint. The songs seem to hover on the verge of silence and slowly wind themselves up tighter and tighter until the tension breaks and they explode. Not all songs follow this exact footprint, but the idea of slowly building tension is a theme throughout.

There is nothing I can say about this album that hasn't already been said by many people who are not only better musicians than I am, but better with words as well. This is the story of Slint. They have inspired so much ink by so many thoughtful minds that they continue to inspire and astound for new listeners even though they've not recorded an album since 1990. In certain underground rock circles, Slint is a sort of Mecca. A band everyone must encounter on their own, when they encounter music on their own. For some of us, this is in the car between here and there. For others, it is in the dark with our head phones on in bed. Still, there are others of us who come home drunk and listen as we sway in the dim lighting to the songs that creep along our spine. Songs that the alcohol in our veins pulses to.

The point is that Slint, and more specifically Spiderland, is not a rock album for arenas. It is not about pumping your fist in unison with a thousand drunk young people. Its aesthetic, its mood, and even its lyrics, deal with the quiet, lonely moments when we find out who we are and where our limits end and that dreadful "other" our sub-conscience grapples with begins. Spiderland is a rock album for anyone who thinks about their rock as much as they feel it. It's an idea born of the Punk that is also one of the seminal ideas involved in Post Rock, and it's an intellectual ideal that has kept Post Rock firmly out of reach of the anti-intellectual mainstream that is popular music. This means there will forever be people who love "Rock" that just "don't get" how a half hour album that only rocks out for maybe 8 minutes tops can be worth the hype twenty years later. But this also means that people like me will continue to write articles to share our love of the hidden gems from yesterday that still find fans among those who love music a little bit more than your average man.


The way these records were intended to be heard was on vinyl.

The album Spiderland is perhaps the best example of minimalist rock that I can think of. I call it the best because the longer I listen to it, the larger the sound becomes. Truly, there is no other album where "Less is More" is so perfectly embodied, at least for this listener. I think the masterpiece on the album has to be "Washer". It's an eight minute minimalist epic that lulls the listener in as it relates the story of a little boy not wanting to fall asleep because of the nightmares that come as soon as he closes his eyes. After a six minute hypno-rock-lullaby with little growls and ripples that hint of violence beneath the calm surface, the boy finally succumbs and closes his eyes, and all hell breaks loose for about 40 seconds. If your skin doesn't come off when they step on the distortion peddles, you're not listening right.

In the long run, "Good Morning, Captain" stands out as the song that is most famous and most recognizable as Slint. It closes the album and is perhaps as good as, if not better than, "Washer". This is one of the great things about Spiderland. It's six songs long, but each song is so strong that you shudder to think what it would be like if they added even three more. "Good Morning, Captain" tells its own creepy story of loss and guilt and ends with a terrible revelation that is mirrored sonically. The revelation in the song is that of the speakers guilt for what happened. It's not that exactly what happened is a big secret you find out at the end, it's that after holding back the whole song (which seems to be years according to the lyrics) the speaker finally lets out what they've been holding back since the night the ship went down so many years ago. It sounds unusual to discuss songs in this way, but Slint is unusual and must be handled so.

The album must be encountered alone. Take it seriously if you really want to get to know it, and listen to it when you are in the best state of mind to appreciate creative music. The album is only six tracks long, but it is an extensive journey if you encounter it properly. From one fan of music to another, rules only matter for those who need them, and Slint doesn't need them.

The Reunion Tours: 2005 & 2007

In 2005, more than a decade after disbanding, three members of Slint — Brian McMahan, David Pajo, and Britt Walford — reunited for the 2005 All Tomorrow's Parties Music Festival in England. Later that same year, Slint played many other shows in the U.S. and Europe. Though Slint claimed it was a short-term reunion, they reformed once again in 2007 to perform Spiderland in its entirety at festivals in Barcelona, England, and again in the U.S. and Canada at select shows in Chicago, Seattle and Hollywood as well as others.

During the 2007 shows, the band played a new song, entitled "King's Approach". Many fans have speculated this meant that new material was forth coming and that the band might have a permanent reunion. As of the writing of this article, however, this has not happened. We the fans continue to hope that something might materialize, but as time marches on and we all get older, that possibility seems more and more remote. Still, all I have to do is listen to "Nosferatu Man" or "Good Morning, Captain" to feel my skin crawl like it did the first time I fell in love with them years ago, a feeling that never grows old.

What do you think?

What is your favorite Slint Track?

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7 comments

tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 6 years ago from San Francisco

Absolultely loved reading this and listening to the music. Am also playing "Good Morning Captain" as I type. LOVE this band, though I some how missed out on their music. Don't know how this happened, as I adore bands like Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins... who also fall into the category of *not quite punk*. Thanks for a great hub! Bookmarked.


cdub77 profile image

cdub77 6 years ago from Portland Or Author

Thanks for the kind comments Tracy! I didn't mention it in the post, but Dave Pajo of Slint was in Zwan with members of the Pumpkins later on, so you know Billy listened to them.

You can also check out Dave Pajo's solo stuff. Not quite as good, but he's got years of albums with several songs that are treasures if you enjoy the minimalist approach.


Dyzioek profile image

Dyzioek 6 years ago from U.S.A.

The creative underground musical force of the late 1980s to the early to mid 1990s is very under-appreciated these days, I hadn't heard of Slint up until reading these and listening to their music has been very entertaining and enlightening to hear. Thanks for the great article!


cdub77 profile image

cdub77 6 years ago from Portland Or Author

No Problem Dyzioek, liked yours on Hum as well. I got one on Neutral Milk Hotel coming out in a few days, so if you like them, check back!


TurtleDog profile image

TurtleDog 5 years ago

Never heard of Stint! very cool vid you posted. Good article! Thanks. I voted UP!


FreelancerA profile image

FreelancerA 4 years ago from Portland

I would have to agree that Slint is the best band that people haven't heard of. They pretty much helped accelerate the whole post rock movement which is now massive.


cdub77 profile image

cdub77 4 years ago from Portland Or Author

Thanks FreelancerA!

The title is really more to grab attention than to express any true sentiment, but they were the band I chose to use that title on. :) Missed their reunion shows a few years ago, was too busy with my undergrad degree at the time. Wish they'd do another one! :)

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