Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen I was in a band with my best friend. And I was a fucking nightmare. Lou Reed at his most drug-addled and difficult had nothing on me. The truth is that I didn’t really want to be in a band, and I certainly didn’t want to play guitar. I think it may have been Kurt Cobain who once derided musicians who love the guitar, who worship it; he said that these people would never make interesting music. I was pretty much of the same opinion. I hated the instrument. I didn’t want to learn how to play it; I didn’t want to play it at all. I wanted more than anything to make electronic-dance music, but I didn’t know how and so I took my frustrations out on the songs I wrote with my friend. My friend, bless him, liked melody and wanted, it seemed to me, to make pleasant music that extolled the virtues of his girlfriend Julie. I took it upon myself to violently batter those songs, or strip them down to almost nothing; likewise, he took my snarky ill-tempered noise and morbid near-silence, and imposed some kind of structure on it. We were in constant opposition to each other. It was war.
“Fill your pockets with the dust and memories
That rises from the shoes on my feet.”
My reasons for quitting the band are probably obvious. And, in any case, besides my general dissatisfaction, I had become more interested in writing stories or novels, because that was a singular pursuit. However, perhaps the defining moment for me, the one thing that ultimately convinced me to give up music was hearing Spiderland by Slint for the first time. Now, of course I am not suggesting that the music I created was comparable in quality to that on Spiderland, but rather that it seemed be a perfect expression of how I wanted to approach music. Spiderland is gloomy, restless, intense, noisy; the songs seem simultaneously well-crafted and ill at ease with themselves; they are spontaneous and loose, yet tight. There was, I judged upon hearing the record, no point in me carrying on; it was everything I thought guitar music should and could be.
It appears to be impossible to review this record without mentioning how influential it supposedly is, how seminal. But I don’t give a fuck about that; it’s meaningless. Either you’re already familiar with post-rock, math-rock, Battles and Mogwai etc, in which case I would be merely telling you things you already know, or you’re not, and so a list of random names will be entirely pointless. In fact, music criticism, or music reviews, seem pointless to me too, even though, to my shame, I dabble from time to time; you can all go listen to the record on youtube and make up your own mind, and nothing I say will influence how you hear it, or it shouldn’t. I can only really talk about what the record means to me.
What Spiderland suggests to me most of all is what it is like to be a teenager, a time when all your hormones are charging around your body, making you act like a dozen different people per week. It’s a serious, earnest record, in the same way that being a kid is a serious business; being sixteen is no fucking joke. Or it wasn’t for me, anyway. I was irascible, moody, confused, scared. It’s fitting that the band were themselves teenagers; indeed, I read somewhere a few weeks ago that guitarist-vocalist Brian McMahan was, at the time of writing and recording the record, concerned about what it meant to become an adult, and that kind of anxiety is all over Spiderland.
The songs writhe, they explode suddenly, like temper tantrums. [I once nodded off while listening to the song Washer, whose spiralling guitar lines must have lulled me to sleep, only to be woken up abruptly by the howl of noise towards the end]. So, what Spiderland means to be me is a sense of identification. There are a lot of records that remind me of being a teenager, records by bands or musicians I was discovering around that time, like Pavement or Galaxie 500, but it’s a different thing entirely to say that a record encapsulates how you felt, not in words either, which not being your own could never truly capture who you are, but in stereo sound.
What was it Steve Albini once said? Ten fucking stars? Yeah, and then some.