Scott Tennent manages remarkable efficiency in the book, comprehensively covering Spiderland while also producing the first book on Slint’s whole career. It’s meticulous and detailed, but he’s fortunate that anyone likely to pick up a book about Slint is probably going to be receptive to the approach - if you read a lot of 33 1/3 reviews across a wide swathe of internet, it becomes clear quickly that the expectations of each title are bound by the type of fans and usual coverage that album artist has, with many people closed to any other approach, and that music writing is a very niche interest. So, with terra nova and an album with fans that are generally nerdy and informed about music, it’s satisfying to see that potential put to use.
Tennent begins with the Louisville scene and particularly the bands Maurice and Squirrel Bait, and it’s like a diagrammatic progression towards Slint, watching the shifts in the wider context of the local scene and punk/hardcore. The expected narrative, I guess, would be that the book’s subject is the ultimate destination, and yet Slint was just one episode in the larger musical careers of its members, and so this seems appropriate. It leads smoothly into Slint and their first album, Tweez, which Tennent describes here and in interview as being baffling and alienating to Spiderland fans, initially at the very least, but he does a fine job presenting its process and merits here. Given the perfectionism and technical competence of the band, Steve Albini’s heavy hand on Tweez makes for an interesting interlude here.
The Spiderland sections is the peak, with the descriptions and analysis of each song benefiting from the full force of Tennent’s skill. He emphasises its dynamics and contrast, especially relative to the minimalist approach they’d elsewhere show a preference for. ‘Good Morning, Captain’ in particular gets about a dozen pages of some seriously exemplary writing (with mad bonus points for the bit on R.E.M.’s ‘Belong’).
Following a concise look at the album art, we get to four-year-old Slint breaking up and leaving Spiderland in their wake, and the book surfaces nicely by describing and quoting interviews, then a contemporaneous appraisal by Steve Albini (his review in Melody Maker), and the specifics of how and where Spiderland was influential.
One paragraph in this last chapter is very reminiscent of Wilson Neate’s Pink Flag (briefly: also excellent) and Wire’s position, though it’s about Slint’s successors:
The cold detachment of Slint’s clean guitars, their subverted vocals, their dramatic juxtapositions - more exaggerated than, say, a Pixies chorus - was like an avenue out of the sound being co-opted by the major labels. If the mainstream, through Nirvana and Green Day, was going to scavenge four-chord punk, feedback-laden noise-rock, and fuck-you slacker attitude, then the punkest thing to do was to turn off your distortion pedal, slow your tempo, and speak in paragraphs rather than shout in slogans. It was a total effacement of personality, statement of intent, and accessibility.
It must be noted that David Pajo and Todd Brashear were interviewed for the book, but Brian McMahan and Britt Walford declined, though there’s no sense of anything missing while reading it. I really enjoyed this one, both in the context of the series and as a Slint fan.