Photo by JONATHAN VALANIA
The really cool kids found out about Slint back in 1989. I found out about them in 1993 (hey, I was stationed at the Antarctic weather station of my own lameness at the time, and the record store there refused to carry Touch & Go shit, OK?!?). In all seriousness, Slint did not make it easy for uncool kids like me. They were always an enigma wrapped in a riddle. They were named after the one dude’s pet fish — Slint isn’t even a real word. They hated every picture ever taken of them and let nobody see them. They thought doing press was ‘stupid.’ And they broke up before Spiderland, their mysterious 1991 math-rock masterpiece, was even released. There was never any real explanation for the band’s dismemberment, and the glaring absence of information only added to their mystique. But nearly 25 years later we finally find out what really happened. The I answer, I think, comes at the one hour and eight minute mark of Breadcrumb Trail: The Story Of Slint, filmmaker Lance (husband of Sleater-Kinney’s Corine Tucker/director of the Jackass movies and a zillion music videos) Bang’s Slint documentary that’s included in the new box set reissue of Spiderland. The band is talking about finishing up the recording of the album and that all that was left to record was the vocals. The only problem was there were no vocal parts or lyrics written, so they had to be made up on the fly. Drummer Britt Walford talks about how the band watched from the control room as Brian McMahan, alone before a microphone in the studio, cloaked in near-total darkness, a single ray of light shining down upon his head, sweating profusely through the recording of the vocals for “Good Morning, Captain.” At one point he even vomits from the intensity of it all. And then he sings those haunted words that come at the 5:53 mark, right before the band’s final, primal crescendo:
“I am trying to find a way home/I’m sorry/and I miss you”
If he sounds like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, it’s because he was. Days after the recording of Spiderland was completed, Brian McMahan checked himself into a psychiatric hospital. There would be no tour in support of the album. Slint would never record another note of music.
Fast forward 23 years, to last night at Union Transfer. Slint takes the stage to show us what could have been, what should have been and what shall forever be. The set is a mash-up of Spiderland and Tweez, their 1989 Steve Albini-produced debut, where all the songs are titled with the first names of their parents. They perform in near- total darkness. They say nothing to the crowd, save a few goofy non sequiturs uttered between songs by McMahan in a faux-ancient negro rasp. They are precision incarnate, but they make their flawlessness look effortless. They are humble masters of tension and release. They raise anti-climax to an artform. They swing like a sledgehammer, with more groove than four white kids from Kentucky have a right to. If you listen closely, you can hear their pre-history, that they were a coming-of-age art band battle-hardened in the trenches of the all-ages punk wars of their Louisville youth who built the perfect killing machine in the drummer’s parents’ basement. That they swallowed Big Black, Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth and the entire Dischord back catalog whole and metabolized it into a seminal, post-everything math-rock mysticism that far exceeds the reach and scope of its influences. That they were so far ahead of their time, it took them nearly a quarter of a century to grow into their precociousness. — JONATHAN VALANIA