Thursday, August 31, 2017

River City Rock



In early August of this year I visited Louisville for the first time in twenty years. It was a city I lived in the middle 1990s. I had worked for the transit authority for a brief time then worked as a radio personality for two different radio stations there. As with most radio stations we didn't play local music and played popular commercial music. Even though I was living in Louisville I wasn't connected to the local music scene except for maybe seeing ads for performances in the Leo or seeing a flier at the local music store ear X-tacy. I was more aware of what music was coming out of Seattle at that time than Louisville.

Before my return to Louisville I started researching bands that were from Louisville during the 1990s. I wanted to see what I had missed out on during that time and find a way to mentally connect with the feel of the city when I lived there that I couldn't recollect from my own memories and photographs of the place. That is when I discovered Slint.

I had considered myself a person with fairly eclectic and expansive musical tastes and knowledge. Somehow I had missed out on this band. This was a band that developed a cult following, a legend steeped in mystery and produced what many consider one of the most influential rock albums of the 1990s. This was a band too that had broken up in 1990 and released their last album in 1991, but had somehow become this critical darling.



I listened to their last album titled Spiderland and I understand why this band was so loved. These guys were in their late teens to around twenty years old and had made this important music in a basement in Louisville. Somehow, I had missed out an important piece of a city I had lived in. I would have been in Louisville at the time some of these guys were bouncing around in different bands post Slint and I had no idea about them.

This is hypnotic and shoegazing rock and many refer to the music of Slint as "math rock." Their music features repetitious guitar and drum rhythms that are so beautiful with complex time signatures. The lyrics often border on bad poetry written by angst filled teenagers and given their age at the time it is understandable. The music is the better part of the band and the vocals are often either whispered or screamed and were written mostly at the last minute during the recording session of the album in Chicago.

If you go to a quiet room, close the door, turn down the lights, put on your headphones and listen to Spiderland you will hear great music. It is the best way to fully appreciate this music because I imagine it is impossible to enjoy any other way. This isn't music for a bright sunny day at the beach, but more for dark rooms and focused thinking. This music brings to mind the images of Louisville in the 90s with all of the old architecture it has, the decay it had then and the isolation of the city on the banks of the Ohio River. This was before widespread internet usage so cities then had a much more distinct identity especially in terms of arts and culture.



There are only six songs on this album, but I enjoy all of them. My favorite from the album is Don, Aman. The song has whispered vocals by the drummer combined with guitar playing that ranges from contemplative to blaring. As for the rest of the album I rank them in this order: Nosferatu Man, Good Morning Captain, Washer, Breadcrumb Trail and For Dinner.

If only this band could have stayed together in the 90s they might have made more great music and reached a much wider audience besides music critics and musicians. Slint did reunite in the 2000s, but seeing these guys in their 40s playing this music is awkward and I think their music from Spiderland is best left in that time capsule shrouded in the mystique of what might have been.

There is a documentary on the band that was released in 2014 called Breadcrumb Trail. It can be hard to find, but it is excellent and reveals much about the band, their creative process, and what happened to them.

So if you are in the mood for dark, brooding, and beautiful rock music spend time in Spiderland.