Slint “Spiderland” LP/CD/DVD – THE UNBOXING

photo 6Slint’s “Spiderland” is one of those albums that managed to enhance a lot of indie folks’ musical lives in 1991.

I was a deejay at KDVS at UC Davis at that time. My then-girlfriend (and then-also-deejay-at-KDVS) Marie said “you like that Bitch Magnet album Ben Hur – you should check out the new Slint record. I bet you’d like it.”

I checked it out.

I liked it.

For the few that heard the album that spring, the songs “Breadcrumb Trail,” “Washer”, and “Good Morning Captain,” in particular, emerged from the undifferentiated early-90s college radio din as brief moments of unassuming, inadvertent, flawed (and, as it turned out, most likely reluctant) genius. Codeine’s Frigid Stars was one of the only other things from that period that similarly endured.

photo 1I’m not sure why Spiderland touched certain nerves at the time. Some people just got it. Others preferred The Pixies, or Nirvana, or Camper Van Beethoven, or The Lemonheads… but there was something cryptic (and appealingly fucked up) about Slint.

Their music didn’t seem knowing, or hip, or sarcastic, or jaded. Poetry — musical and lyrical — abounded, and the album had an alienated, vulnerable, tense vibe that was natural, rather than the result of fad, trend or artifice.

23 years after its release, Spiderland got the (inevitable?) deluxe box set treatment from Touch & Go this past April. It sold out almost immediately, and there’s no plans (that I know of) to re-press. Let’s tally this bitch, as presented by Touch & Go’s website:

• Hand numbered limited edition of 3,138 copies.

• Remastered from the original analog master tapes by Bob Weston and pressed on 180 gram vinyl

• Fourteen previously unreleased outtakes & demos personally selected by Slint, mastered by Bob Weston, and pressed on two 180 gram vinyl albums

• 104 page book with over 100 never-before-seen photos documenting Slint’s entire history, as well as lyrics to the songs on Spiderland, and a forward by Will Oldham

• Remastered Spiderland on one CD, and the 14 bonus songs on a second CD

Breadcrumb Trail, a brand new, never-before-seen, 90 minute DVD documentary about Slint and the making of Spiderland; directed by Lance Bangs

• Heavyweight, “tip-on” gatefold LP jackets

• All three albums pressed at RTI in the USA on 180 gram vinyl

photo 3Readers of this blog may have noticed that I like to order records by mail and then bitch about the packing. So let’s talk about the condition in which this particular object arrived from Touch & Go, shall we?

It was double-boxed, with styrofoam inserts between boxes, and a bubble-wrap envelope encasing the shrinkwrapped box. The thing showed up in impeccable condition. Exemplary packing. Thanks, Touch & Go.

The remastering job on the CD is excellent. Engineer Brian Paulson originally recorded Slint in all their trebly, whispered/spoken/shouted glory, but the mastering had that early-90s sound: hard, brittle, compressed; the abundant highs were characterized by fatiguing glare. The new, Bob-Weston-mastered version evens things out with some appropriately slamming low end, and the guitar blare is still fierce — but the digital grit is tamed.

photo 7The bonus CD tracks seem mostly four-track cassette-quality, but there’s some treats: basement practice tunes, demos, rough mixes, and a couple “Evanston Riff Tape”s (the latter being unamplified electric guitar sketchbooks of songs captured in Spiderland‘s development stage). And there’s one live tune: following the stuttered introduction “this is our last song. We’re from Louisville, and we thought you needed to hear this,” a lumbering rendering of Crazy Horse’s “Cortez the Killer” is delivered. The lyrics are delivered in a voice more ambitious than tuneful, even by Neil Young standards, and it’s an endearing tribute…possibly to the one artist all or most of Slint could agree on.

The vinyl quality is much better than the original (which wasn’t awful). The LPs are packaged beautifully. I don’t like the static-y poly innersleeves, but that’s remedied easily enough. The two CDs and DVD are packaged in a gatefold LP-sized sleeve.

photo 10The 12×12″ photobook is lovely. It’s packed with childhood photos (including a barely-teenage Britt Walford (I think), headphones on, clutching a copy of Lydia Lunch’s Queen Of Siam), candids of the band, outtakes from the sleeve photo sessions, contact sheets, lyrics, flyers, press clippings, liner note mockups, etc. The inside title page is hand-signed in black Sharpie by the band members (with telltale smudges on the facing page). A thoughtful and somewhat conflicted introduction is contributed by friend-of-Slint Will (“Bonnie Prince Billy”) Oldham. There’s a fan letter from Bob Weston and a “10 f***ing stars” Melody Maker review by Steve Albini. Print quality for the book is sweet, as is everything in it.

I can’t do the Breadcrumb Trail documentary DVD justice. The personalities of the band members are hilariously strange and engrossing, and the cast of characters surrounding the band insightful and entertaining. If you’re curious about eighties punk rock from the ultraweird Louisville angle, the Touch & Go label’s output in the late eighties and early nineties, or just like offbeat independent music documentaries, you’ll find it fascinating.

photo 16And hey, while we’re talking history, preconceptions, and critics: noted toefucker Robert Christgau took time out from handing out his “dean’s list” platitudes in 1991 to award Spiderland a “C-minus” in The Village Voice, and indicted the band as “art-rockers without the courage of their pretensions.” I can’t think of many comments (from many other commentators) that would make me want to like an album more. Right, Thurston?

Spiderland was a left-field home run when it was released in 1991. Subsequent years have been still kinder to it; perhaps its legendary status lends more mystique to Slint than is warranted. The band members certainly seems baffled by the attention. Spiderland sounded great 23 years ago. I didn’t think it could sound better, but it does now, and I love this album more than ever.