Every once in a while I go through a very intense phase of musical exploration. A few years ago, having heard my first few post-rock and “post-metal” albums, I went into sort of a frenzy, trying to absorb and collect everything I could about these genres. Conceptually, I could see very well where they were coming from, how they connected and so forth, but I never thought I could find what has since come to represent the sound which was, at least in my opinion, the origin of it all, the first instance. Not only that, but I hadn’t even realized, for some reason, that there might be such a thing as a “first”. Post-rock seems like such an eclectic, wide thing that it just didn’t make sense to think of it as the kind of genre with a “grandfather”-type band. And yet, here they are – Slint.
There are some bands around which act like a catalyst for music to come decades later. Critics usually call them “bands for musicians”, as a way of explaining the pattern of usually low mainstream popularity during their time, turning into a phenomenal explosion of references many years later, when mainstream musicians of the time confess having been influenced by their almost forgotten work. The Velvet Underground, Nick Drake, King Crimson (although they defy this pattern a bit, which isn’t unusual for them), the list goes on and on. Slint, I believe, is definitely one of these bands. You wouldn’t have been able to hear any of their songs on the radio in 1991. Not on MTV. In fact, I can’t imagine a place where you could’ve heard them in any mainstream media, given that the early nineties were still dominated by Guns’n’Roses! These guys wrote their stuff at the same time glam was fading away! Nirvana had barely released Bleach back then. Think about that for a second, while you listen to the Slint samples below.
It took almost two decades for this type of sound to start appealing to more and more people. I’m not talking about Isis, Explosions in the Sky and so forth here, these are still not universally known bands. I’m talking about Elbow, winning Grammys, I’m talking about Porcupine Tree and Tool, bands with massive followings nowadays, who can, willingly or not, trace their roots to this four-man band who only issued two albums, of which only the second truly defines their sound. I think that what Slint have achieved in terms of innovation is remarkable. I get the distinct impression they weren’t trying to prove anything. This way of making music just came naturally, there’s no agenda, no meta-frustration with the state of music at the time. And that’s what makes it so strong, that’s what gives it this wide-ranging effect and impact.
The mix of more-recited-than-sung lyrics and morose, syncopated music, heavy, bleak and hypnotic, their broken, limpid, doggedly persistent songs, the fluttering lambency descending through the notes, in black and white, the cold, dusky mood they weave, all of these things make me think of swimming at night, of being immersed. There’s a pond in a quarry relatively close to where I live. The soil there is full of clay so the water tends to gather in almost any hole in the ground, but this pond is special – it’s turquoise. The water is opaque, still, and turquoise, because of some chemical or other sifting through from the crushed rocks all around. When I first discovered it, I was left breathless. Tiny, triangular bird footprints in the clay by the side of the pond, like runes, purple rocks in a cliff at the back of it, almost no vegetation… it felt like landing on an alien planet. Every time I listen to Slint, I feel like I’m floating face-up in that pond, an act which I never actually performed in real life, as I don’t really know how to swim. The feeling of longing mingled with danger permeates the album, and spawns my image of it. And, setting aside the general mood, there’s another aspect to this album which positively electrifies me (excuse the pun) – the pacing. After forty minutes of barely whispered vocals, of growing tension, during the last few seconds of “Good Morning Captain” there’s a scream. A furious, baleful, thundering scream, as if all the sorrow in the world just exploded in front of our eyes. That moment alone is worth the entire album. It’s cathartic in a way no other art form has shown me, at least so far.
I know this is a bit of a deviation from the general direction of the blog so far, but there’s an entire side of my musical interests I haven’t been able to tackle just yet. I’m just saying, don’t be surprised if posts about bands like these, or darker still, show up in the future. I hope you’ll enjoy the charred, granulated beauty that is Slint.