Formed by former Squirrel Bait members Brian McMahan (guitar) and Britt Walford (drums) with guitarist David Pajo and bassist Ethan Buckler, Slint ruptured the impenetrably dense facade of late-’80s ugly rock. While the Louisville quartet’s 1989 debut Tweez (actually recorded in 1987, with Steve Albini) posits a variety of then-functionless tactics, approaches and strange sonic schematics, it set the stage for what was to come on the second installment of the band’s troubled existence. Extreme leaps in dynamic range — in terms of volume, density and tempo — are achieved by some alchemical grace without ever actually managing to deliver a real song anywhere on the record. Mixing a lopsided punk spirit with seemingly incongruous mathematical precision, Slint bore out a weird twist on prog-rock. By and large Tweez is an album of fractured but exciting ideas, loosely strewn together with garbled dialogue, random screams and weird sonic effects. Shortly after recording the album, Buckler left the band, eventually forming King Kong, and was replaced by Todd Brashear.
The six lengthy songs that make up 1991’s Spiderland, produced by Brian Paulson, are dramatically more developed and sophisticated than anything on the debut, beautifully transporting the flurry of vibrant ideas from Tweez into dizzyingly complex but transcendent tunes. While McMahan’s lyrics remain hopelessly oblique and a bit precious, there is nevertheless a palpable shift from notebook scribblings toward narrative experimentation. In conjunction with this change, his vocal delivery is synchronized with the music, his hushed mumbling accompanying the quiet parts while an unrelenting scream rises to meet the loud sections. Walford’s powerful drumming undergirds a complicated lattice of harmonically puzzling, contrapuntal guitar lines and thick, propulsive basslines. The band’s remarkable ability to shift sonic gears — from soft to hard and spare to cluttered — contributes to the unique power of the songs, which seem more concerned with the arduous journey than the destination.
The eponymous EP features two nameless songs recorded between the band’s albums that provide a useful illustration of Slint’s transformation, as well as suggesting the secondary nature of lyrics. Both cuts are instrumental, but it seems as if words were meant to be inserted at a later date.
Slint’s influence has proven vast and far-reaching, spawning loads of less important imitators such as Rodan and June of 44. While most of Slint’s ex-members played in early incarnations of Palace Brothers, Pajo went on to join Chicago’s Tortoise, Walford drummed pseudonymously on the first Breeders album and played keyboards in King Kong. McMahan withdrew from music for several years before moving to Chicago and forming The For Carnation. On Fight Songs, the band’s three-song debut, McMahan is joined by Pajo, drummer John Herndon and bassist Doug McCombs (both of whom also play in Tortoise) to muse upon the more lyrical side of Slint. “Grace Beneath the Pines” is a lengthy and quiet solo piece with fairly ridiculous but highly personal lyrics, while the short instrumental “How I Beat the Devil” is surprisingly jaunty, exuding a marked Slovenly influence.
The For Carnation’s six-song Marshmallows nonspecifically credits McMahan, Herndon, McCombs, Brad Wood and four others.