Slint’s “Spiderland” is an album that stands on the periphery of the conscience. It’s an exploration of our repressed feelings of alienation, anxiety, and self-revulsion. But the 1991 release wouldn’t embody the feeling of being truly alone as well as it does if it seemed directly in front of the listener as a known entity.

The album has a unique surrealness, where we can be told what to envision but are somehow unable to conjure up images even remotely concrete. At the same time, it’s not surreal in the psychedelic sense, because it’s rooted in familiarity, as opposed to some far out trip.

Musically, “Spiderland” has many elements which make it at least somewhat beholden to normalcy, even if they’re incorporated in a technically brilliant manner. There are metallic riffs similar to those of post-hardcore acts of the time such as Fugazi, but they’re not used to angrily take on politics.

The rhythms are unconventional and the time signatures are uncommon, but those same methods have been used by many midwest emo groups since. Unlike them, “Spiderland” doesn’t use its rhythms to evoke angst at a summer house party.

“Don, Aman,” which can best be described as a narration rather than the third track, is quite anxious and involves some sort of social gathering. But instead of Don experiencing wistful sadness, he is wracked by paranoia. He can’t get out of his own head because his surroundings are closing in on him.

Everywhere he looks, something is there to rile him up, whether it’s “the light,” “the conversations,” or “the couples romancing.” Even “his friends stare, with eyes like the heads of nails.” This final image is the most transfixing. What once was his one safe haven is now a cold, dead place.

The instrumental, which starts as a simple nocturnal and lonely riff, gradually becomes more urgent before the pent up anxiety erupts into a brief crescendo. The track captures this emotion in a way that is identifiable to anyone who’s ever felt truly overwhelmed by a situation.

“Don, Aman” and the rest of “Spiderland” are more evocative of our underlying inclinations than of our surface feelings, and this is due in no small part to the chilling performance by Brian McMahan, Slint’s lead vocalist, whose voice often sounds like a whisper from just behind your ear, influencing your subconscious.

The brooding tone is set by the opening track, “Breadcrumb Trail.” The name brings to mind the story of Hansel and Gretl, who leave a trail of breadcrumbs in the woods before being drawn in by an edible house and taken by a witch. It’s a way of signalling to the listener the hypnotic and entrancing nature of “Spiderland.”

While not as ominous as some of the later tracks, the opener separates the listener from reality with its grand riffs and pulsating drums, while the lyrics talk of saying “goodbye to the ground,” our normal reality.

The opener is also the album’s closest thing to a love song, telling the story of a boy falling for a fortune teller, yet it’s strangely somber, as if the narrator could remember vague details of the encounter but could no longer feel them.

“Good Morning, Captain” is the monumental conclusion. The captain and narrator has lost his entire crew at sea, and McMahan’s voice has now become that of a man at his breaking point, incredibly desperate for survival but almost out of the strength to keep trying.

From the start, the instrumental impends doom, with the guitar loops acting as dark clouds looming overhead before they are briefly replaced by a delicate strumming — the calm before the storm.

When the track builds to its final crescendo, McMahan softly pleads “I miss you” and “I’ll make it up to you” to the son he can never return to, before peak cataclysm is reached. He shrieks “I MISS YOUUU” in a seethingly anguished performance so overpowering and unrestrained that McMahan supposedly vomited afterward. At this point, the guitars become more piercing and the drums more vigorous than ever, and it’s impossible not to at least feel the urge to headbang.

Just as with the opener, “Good Morning, Captain” is essential to “Spiderland.” Without it, the album wouldn’t have catharsis as its destination. The anticipation builds to almost unimaginable levels, helped by the weight of the previous tracks, until there’s nothing for the music to do but burst apart before simmering out in the closing seconds.

If the album is viewed as a nighttime journey through the deepest recesses of the mind, then the closer’s title is fitting. While devastating, the track’s climax also brings an unconventional form of hope. “Spiderland” reminds us that it’s a finite experience with a light at the end of the tunnel, and that isolation, anxiety, and self-disgust, which it viscerally portrays, aren’t destined to reside with us for eternity.



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