Full disclosure – the album which is the main subject of this documentary, “Spiderland” by Slint, is probably my favourite album ever. I’m predisposed to being interested in this, and if you’re just a documentary fan or a curious music fan, I’d probably suggest listening to some of their music beforehand.
Slint came out of the rich alternative music scene of Louisville, Kentucky in the 1980s, and we’re treated to many of the fliers that we music fans know and love, with hideously named bands, written out as a weird gothic scribble, poorly photocopied. Happy times! At the bottom of these bills starts appearing bands containing one or more of the people who went on to form Slint – Britt Walford, Brian McMahan, David Pajo and Ethan Buckler (Buckler was replaced by Todd Brashear after their first album). Britt and Brian were friends from school, from the age of 11, and the thing that’s surprising to even a long-term fan like me is how young they were when they made all this amazing music.
The documentary covers their relatively short and amazing career. Producer Steve Albini (probably most famous for recording “In Utero” by Nirvana) was on hand for their first album, and everyone is remarkably honest about how his ideas were not great for it, how it doesn’t sound as good as it could, etc. Then there’s tales of college and the rather odd antics of Britt before we get to the creation of “Spiderland”, which appears to materialise out of thin air but is actually the result of endless practice and improvisational sessions in the basement of ma and pa Walford. They are the real stars of the film, by the way, a couple of extremely understanding and supportive parents who don’t mind that their home address was printed on the back of the “Spiderland” album cover, and seem immensely proud that something their son created has inspired so much fan mail and adoration from round the world.
In terms of how it’s shot, it’s pretty standard, with talking heads interspersed with archive footage, and the occasional bit of washed out super-8-looking film accompanying songs. But there’s stuff in there for the fan which will intrigue – even though they’ve worked together regularly down the years and are currently reformed and playing shows, they’re all filmed separately with the exception of a tiny section of Brian McMahan and Todd Brashear reminiscing about an early tour. Also, Brian McMahan’s brother and Britt Walford are interviewed in the same spot (if the wall behind them is any indicator) but everyone else seems to be in their own home.
The talking heads, all friends or colleagues of the band, all seem astonished at how good “Spiderland” was, with the biggest name being James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem (who also tells a story about a post-Slint Britt getting a job baking erotic cakes). And they’re right, of course, as my first paragraph may have clued you in on. But the band themselves are wonderfully self-deprecating just by their presence – normal looking guys who don’t have any sense of the dark moodiness of the record, and of the almost cult-like worship of it. They’re all just pleased they got to make music with their friends, even if their rather odd personality mix eventually drove them apart.
There may be more exciting stories to tell about music and the people who make it, but there will be very few stories about the creation of better music than Slint made. We get a flavour of a time and place, an insight into one rather unusual and brilliant musician (Britt), several rather normal but equally brilliant musicians (the rest of the band), and the music is absolutely fantastic.
Rating: thumbs up