Slint’s been riding the whole “isn’t our album Spiderland great?” train for a while now, ever since the band reunited for the first time back in 2005. And while nine years seems like a long time for an almost 30-year-old band to harp on a record that came out in 1991, Spiderland is, in fact, a really fucking fantastic record. So fantastic indeed that it’s not only spawned a new deluxe reissue, but also a new documentary, Lance Bangs’ Breadcrumb Trail. The film comes packaged in the intense, $150 box set, but what really stands out about the Spiderland set is the actual music.
Remastered here by Shellac’s Bob Weston, Spiderland shines in its simplicity. Where the lyrics were once muddled and nearly unintelligible, on the box set they’re brought further forward, though thankfully not enough that they compete with the ear-shredding guitar tones. Britt Walford’s hushed vocals and David Pajo and Brian McMahan’s guitar work are especially clear on “Don, Aman,” which is stunning in its tight bleakness. The bombast of “Good Morning, Captain” and iconic opening of “Breadcrumb Trail” are also standouts, both making a good case for why Spiderland should be heard on vinyl above anything else. Weston’s Spiderland is a headphone masterpiece and a reminder that, even at a tight six songs, Spiderland is a nearly perfect record.
In fact, it’s the record’s brevity that helps it succeed. Several demoed but deleted tracks—“Glenn,” “Pam”—are included in the bonus material attached to the box set, and while they might not be necessarily complete, the entirely instrumental tracks would have dragged down the finished product if included. They’re perfectly fine math-rock cuts, but they’re not great, and they’re not nearly as intensely haunting as anything on Spiderland.
Also included in the bonus material are demo versions of several unreleased post-Spiderland tracks, as well as practice tapes and demos of tracks like “Washer” and “Nosferatu Man.” While it’s interesting to ponder how the 7:23 demo of “Washer” ultimately picked up another 90 seconds of material, the demos are just that, with tape hiss omnipresent, and weird shifts between mono and stereo sound. (There’s also a particularly gnarly cough into the mic on the demo of “Nosferatu” about three minutes in that turns the stark track into something far more disgusting.) The “Evanston Riff Tape” versions of “Good Morning, Captain,” “Nosferatu Man,” and “Pam” are either so damaged by time or so poorly recorded that they’re almost unlistenable, even with Weston’s recent mastering.
That’s not to say that the Spiderland bonus material isn’t intriguing. It is. The band included a kickass cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer” recorded live in Chicago in 1989, hecklers and all. The crowd’s boos and cries of “go home” stand in stark contrast to the band’s modern reception, or even the band’s image of itself. This is the group that had already recorded the Steve Albini-engineered Tweez, and even that didn’t earn them any respect. What Slint would become—the iconic post-rock band that influenced everyone from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Explosions In The Sky—wasn’t evident yet, even in a tiny rock club in Chicago. Where the new Spiderland reissue excels is in showing the group’s logical progression from thoughtful, optimistic Kentuckians to semi-insane musical masterminds over the course of just a few years. It’s a thoughtful look at a legendary act, and one that’s both long overdue and well deserved. Just as Spiderland rewards the patient listener, the box set rewards the patient fan.