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Legendary parts
The Slint legacy becomes reality
BY MATT ASHARE

When Slint called it quits in 1991, that wasnít headline news. At the time, the Louisville band had only two albums to their credit. Touch and Go, the Chicago label that would go on to distribute those recordings and a 1994 homonymous EP of leftovers, had only begun to establish itself as a crucial indie label, and Slint were a band you were more likely to have heard about than heard, never mind seen. Over the next dozen years, however, Slint would take on a legendary, almost sacred status for having pioneered a new direction in post-punk, with an austere, complex, and often cerebral musical vocabulary punctuated by fractal poetry and bursts of noise that would become known variously as math rock and post-rock ó particularly on their swan-song album, Spiderland (Touch and Go, 1991).

But Slint, who have reunited for a tour that comes to the Roxy this Sunday, didnít just disappear. If anything, the profile of each individual band member grew as they dispersed to collaborate in other projects that made crucial contributions to the indie underground throughout the í90s. Original bassist Ethan Buckner, who played on Slintís 1988 debut, Tweez (reissued by Touch and Go in 1993), was already performing with the rootsier concept band King Kong in 1991. Singer/guitarist Brian McMahon, who was already an alumnus of the short-lived but much loved Louisville punk band Squirrel Bait, went on to form the Slintish band the For Carnation. Drummer Britt Wallford, who had first joined forces with McMahon in 1981, when the two were 12 and 11 respectively, had helped Kim Dealís Breeders coalesce, playing drums under the noms de rock Shannon Doughton on 1990ís Pod (issued by Elektra in 1992) and, more infamously, Mike Hunt on 1992ís Safari EP (4AD/Elektra). Guitarist David Pajo went on to form the nucleus of the Chicago instrumental outfit Tortoise, and heís continued to record as both Papa M. and just plain M. And as Slint disbanded, all four members (including Bucknerís 1989 replacement on bass, Todd Brashear) helped fellow Louisville musician Will Oldham explore his inner Louvin Brother in his many Palace mutations. It all adds up to an expansive, impressive, and confusing family tree.

Pajo laughs over the phone from his San Francisco hotel room when I mention that. "Yeah, I saw a family tree a while ago that wasnít quite complete. And I couldnít believe how convoluted it was. It all makes sense to me just from being around it. But it would be a real task to try to write it all down, with all the different line-ups of different bands at different time periods. I found a few mistakes, but I couldnít explain it all to someone if I had to."

To further complicate matters, the line-up that Pajo, McMahon, and Wallford have assembled for the reunion features a new bassist, Todd Cook, whoís an alumnus of both the For Carnation and Papa M., and a third guitarist, McMahonís younger brother Michael. Slint, whose break-up was anything but a bitter one, have become an extended family. "We tried out a bunch of people because Todd Brashear, our Spiderland bass player, opted out because it was going to be too much work and Ethan would have had a hard time learning the Spiderland songs. We actually ended up with another guy named Todd whoís from Louisville. And we need someone to do quite a bit of the second-guitar stuff so that Brian can concentrate on vocals. We never used to focus on vocals live that much. And I donít think we ever would have gotten it together if Brian had had to figure out how to play guitar and sing the songs. Brianís brother was the best of all the guitar players we tried out. Plus, he was around when Slint was around: heíd come to our practices and stuff. He actually came up with the name for the Spiderland album."

And Spiderland, an epic, majestic song cycle, is the cornerstone on which the legend of Slint has been built. "Relearning those songs," Pajo explains, "made me remember how much time we did spend on trying to make parts that on their own donít seem like much. But the way they work with the bass line or the drum part, they would harmonize and create these clashing sounds and overtones that were really part of the riff. There are also big parts in those songs where people just sit out. I donít know if any of us were really into jazz at the time: we were really just trying to maximize our limitations. But we found that if one person sits out for a long time, which is a normal thing for jazz people to do, it adds a new element and makes the song that much bigger when that instrument comes back in.

"I remember [producer] Brian Paulson saying something when we were recording Spiderland. It was something about how every band he records would want things turned up. We were the only band he had worked with who actually wanted things turned down."

Slint perform this Sunday, March 20, at the Roxy, 279 Tremont Street in Boston's Theater District; call (617) 931-2000.


Issue Date: March 18 - 24, 2005
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