Good reading, captain

Shane Worrell, Fairfax Media, 2011

IN MUSIC, 1991 is remembered for the explosion of Seattle grunge and the popularisation of underground punk rock through bands like Nirvana.

Across the United States in Louisville, Kentucky, an album that was to pioneer a different genre – post-rock – appeared headed for obscurity.

The album was Slint’s Spiderland, a six-track, anxious and precise offering from four friends who, after obsessively practising for months, recorded the album in just four days and split up before it was released in early 1991.

Spiderland seemed heavy, yet contained clean guitars; notably missing were hooks and standard rock choruses.

Two decades later the album is considered a masterpiece of the post-rock genre, is credited as inspiring scores of bands from Mogwai to Sigur Ros and has been a favourite with indie music journalists.

Although little has been documented about Slint, a new book written by Scott Tennent as part of the 33 1/3 series, simply titled Spiderland, sheds some light on the band and their posthumous influence.

Seventy-seven titles in the 33 1/3 series have been released since 2003 and each book focuses on a specific album by artists as diverse as Dusty Springfield, My Bloody Valentine, the Rolling Stones and the Magnetic Fields.

It’s kind of like that Classic Albums TV series, but with fewer egos and more obscure bands.

Some of the books are even written by rock musicians unlucky not to have featured in the series themselves, like Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz and the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle.

Tennent’s poetic analysis of Spiderland gives insight into a four-piece band that has been shrouded in mystery since gaining notable recognition about five years after breaking up.

It focuses on the intensity and perfectionism of singer Brian McMahan and drummer Britt Walford and the importance of these characteristics in making the album what it was.

Tennent’s intricate sketches of the machinations of Slint’s music is particularly impressive; a quality that justifies this book as more than just a rock’n’roll biography.

Although it’s hard to imagine being engrossed in the story without having an appreciation of the album itself, Tennent successfully paints a picture of life as a late 1980s and early 1990s independent musician and the DIY existence of bands before grunge changed the game.

If Tennent’s Spiderland is anything to go by, it’s worth checking out more books in this rock history series, which appear to be available only as imports from websites such as Amazon.

Check out the complete list of 33 1/3 books at

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