Monday, August 4, 2014


I first knew Slint's name years after I heard and liked their music. On a friend's fairly recent advice I got a copy of Spiderland and went through it with the curious sensation of hearing something familiar in a strange context. Same went with My Bloody Valentine's Loveless but with the Slint album the way I found it or it me is a fairly typical path; fans of this album outside of the band's small scene in Kentucky find it like they would find a favourite shirt at an op shop. Because of this the lengthy subhistory of the many bands that featured the core members of the one that made this record is not the completist's annoyance but a fascinating look at threads forming a slow weave, tightening into a strong pattern and then fraying. The sensation of honesty in this mumblecore documentary is its strength, not just its charm.

Every documentary centred on rock music will settle on a single figure as an anchor for the rest of the tale. This time it's Brit Walford, crazy-eyed eccentric whose early band shots have him looking about five along with fellow future Slinter and childhood friend Brian McMahan. The pair started very early in the scene, playing noise sets before crowds that mixed their redneck with mohawks back in the late 80s around Louisville. Hopping the fragile twigs of the band family tree they picked up a number of others, arriving eventually at Slint and gathering a lot of love from folk like producer Steve Albini who produced their first album, to the point where they put down the tracks that became Spiderland which is this documentary's primary business.

By the time we get to the tale of recording we've gone through a lot of interpersonal histories and musical development. Everything leads back to how odd Britt is which is something of which he is well aware. There is a lot of talk of the scene, shared houses and how Britt interacted with it. This would be tiresome if it weren't for the fact that the folk in this scene, even now, are all from the understated side of the street. Their recollections are spoken softly and plainly and together form some of the pleasantest rock music interviews I've heard.

Director Lance Bangs works with his subjects comfortably and combines his own naive cinema approach with signifiers that he is doing this with an aesthetic compass. If many of the interviews and home movies look like consumer video or shot on phones there are several (usually with industry figures of prominence) that have been done much slicker. The blend doesn't just work, it has to. We begin with a confessorial statement from the director that he is a fan and his first encounter with any of the band members was an unremarkable moment where he froze up. He also video-ed it and offers this as an ice breaker. It's a funny scene. Our laugh disarms us from fearing we are about to witness an act or worship. From that point we are happy to walk alongside.

Happily, Bangs doesn't betray the trust he's begged with this and the film works. I knew nothing of the band and their place in history. I tend not to care too much about the makers of the music even if I like it so much I play an album more than once a day. I should amend:: I haven't for many many years cared too much. That said, it was fun getting to know these people and how unsurprising that they made this music. The great swathes of instrumental texture and dynamics, the drama, the pathos and myriad atmospheres that pass by like waves and the voice, almost entirely obscured by them, speaking mysteries. The people and their music are such a fit that perhaps the greatest thing this film achieves is that we are not disappointed to find them so.

Fact-packed, personable, compelling and cinematic, this is one of the best music documentaries I've seen in a long while.

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