Sunday, December 28, 2008

Slint - Glenn/Rhoda 10" and Mogwai - Batcat 12"

Slint - 'Glenn' (1994)

Slint - 'Rhoda' (1994)

Mogwai - 'Batcat' (2008)

Slint's EP contains, minute for minute, the best music of their slender but massively important output - Spiderland a greater, but far longer, opus of the early 90s Louisville sound and post-rock point of origin. (The songs were recorded in 1989, after Tweez, but were never released until after Spiderland, in 1993/4) For a description of these two two songs, allow me to return to one of the very earliest posts on this blog, written before going to see Slint performing Spiderland in Tripod, Dublin - at which 'Glenn' and 'Rhoda' were played as part of an extended encore:

"1. this EP almost perfectly bridges the fairly disparate sounds of Tweez (a lo-fi, desultory and crunchingly metallic album) and Spiderland (a twisting, epic and subtle masterpiece of post-rock). 'Glenn' rejuvenates the minimalistic sound of Tweez, tightening it up and adding an extra dimension of tension to the instrumental style. The song quickly builds up into a crescendo, which almost immediately goes nowhere, except to introduce an ominous humming sound... part reminiscent of the antagonistic noise of Tweez, part prescient of the eerie claustrophobia of Spiderland.

2. the music of this EP was for me the most 'accessible' part of Slint, coming as I was from a particular musical direction. Previously, I had an allergy to the whole aesthetic idea of post-rock or math-rock (don't worry, I'm on meds now... the doctors call them the mercury program). The song 'Rhoda', in no small way, helped change that. You see, I was listening to a lot of Maximillian Colby, which was a very heavily Slint-influenced emo/hardcore band, similar in vein to the Swing Kids or perhaps Clikatat Ikatowi. But Slint-influenced is not the same as Slint, so when I downloaded Tweez (the only Slint record Touch and Go have released on eMusic... insert conspiracy theory here) I was a little disappointed, not to say confused. Because this alternate version of 'Rhoda' is simply so much better than that entire album. Right from the starting notes, it is probably Slint's loudest song, performing a similar synthesis of styles to 'Glenn' but simultaneously amping the sound up several notches, drenching the spaces between jagged riffs in perfectly pitched feedback, descending into weird, metallic noise and finally collapsing into a droning whine..."

(Slint - "Glenn/Rhoda" EP, August 2007)

I can't believe I had "an allergy to the whole aesthetic idea of post-rock or math-rock", because it would make a listening to a lot of what I follow now very painful. The Mercury Program are a very good band, though. After that post was the review of the gig itself, still probably the best I've seen in the last 18 months (including the Dinosaur Jr. reunion tour and Battles, twice, with the only real challenge being seeing Si Schroeder live for the first time as well).

"3. When they started playing the first few bars of 'Breadcrumb Trail', it sounded like the most familiar thing in the world. This was basically like listening to the album, but better in every way. Or if you were able to listen to the album at tremendous volume, in a room full of people, maybe that... The first sequence of 'Breadcrumb Trail' and 'Nosferatu Man' was pretty damn rocking, and then they slowed it down a bit for 'Don, Aman', when the two guitars came and sat opposite each other on stools in the middle of the stage. Halfway through 'Washer' I was thinking, maybe now I understand a little bit more what Indian Summer felt 'with the needle dragging the end of the slint lp', and where they took a lot of their sound from. The same with 'For Dinner' and the echoes of Max Colby... not really that all those bands are derivative, but that Slint just created this massively important aesthetic. Finally, with 'Good Morning, Captain', we were left with "I MISS YOU!!!" reverberating in our ears, and wondering... what happens now?

4. They played 'Glenn' and 'Rhoda'! That is, after playing Spiderland in its entirety, they played the Glenn/Rhoda EP in its entirety. I was pretty stoked to hear the album, and that would in itself have made the gig awesome, but hearing those two songs live just blew me away. Especially after just writing a review of those songs, to hear them so unexpectedly was memorable to say the least. Mind you, I used to think 'Glenn' was a quiet song. Not so live, however... 'Rhoda' was also upgraded to "earth-shattering". Just awesome."

(Slint - Live @ Tripod, Dublin)

Since then, I bought a record player, and pretty much along with it, a vinyl copy of Spiderland (the way it's meant to be heard). Later on this year, new reprints of the self-titled/'Glenn'/'Rhoda' EP, whatever you want to call it, arrived in the shops. I have to say the difference in quality - in audio terms and in the general experience - is less easily discernible than with Spiderland. Hence, the streaming clips are just ripped from the CD version. However, the pure aesthetics of the EP are enhanced by the 10" version, from the film noir-ish cover art (supposedly inspired by this 1992 book of NYPD crime scene photographs) to the unnamed, crimson-soaked pictorial side A/side B labels on the record itself.

(Click to expand)

A further enchancement of this most perfect encapsulation of the Slint sound and energy came also with the 2008 release of Mogwai's 'Batcat' EP for their current album The Hawk Is Howling. What a 'batcat' is, I don't know - visual, visceral horrorshows aside - but Mogwai did follow in the footsteps of another Slint (okay, Albini/Shellac) influenced band, Mclusky, with their song titles. And yes, that's not a hawk on the album (or at least it doesn't look like one), and no, it's not howling. But 'Batcat' the song is a condensed epic of post-metal, crushingly heavy, noise-making guitars and intricate post-rock composition, which immediately reminds me of Slint's 'Rhoda', the re-worked version.

It's not just 'Batcat', the second track on the full album after the winding, harmonious 'I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead', that makes the EP worthwhile, however. Two tracks on the flipside to 'Batcat', 'Stupid Prick Gets Chased By The Police and Loses His Slut Girlfriend' and 'Devil Rides', showcase Mogwai's less intense, more subtly crafted post-rock soundscapes, in a sort of combined 'Glenn' to Batcat's 'Rhoda'. The upfront heaviness of the EP is in some ways mirrored by the accessibility of the full-length, for all its sprawling, double-LP expanse:

"...Mogwai's sound on The Hawk Is Howling is in the style of their last few albums. The melodies on The Hawk Is Howling are direct and overt. It's grown man, heart-on-their-sleeve music without being veiled in pretense--probably why it got a 4 on Pitchfork. When Mogwai get heavy, they sound like Tool. And it rules. Mogwai are a great rock band because they sound honest."

(josephlovesit, Geek Down - Best of 2008: Rock Albums)

Slint - Touch and Go / Quarterstick Records

Slint 10" at Road Records

Mogwai - Matador Records


josephlovesit said...

Adding Albini's production to your comparing Slint and Mogwai is key. That dry, crisp sound is a big link between the two, and to a larger degree between Mogwai and all of that Chicago-based Albini-produced stuff. It all, including Mogwai, sounds cold and urban to my ears. Oddly enough, it's a sound I also recognize on all the Pig Destroyer albums before Phantom Limb. Though I still have a hard time getting into a lot of that Albini stuff, like Big Black or Rapeman.

gabbagabbahey said...

it's more than just cold and urban, the sound is totally metallic - inorganic in a sense, although the way it's written it seems to develop organically.

believe it or not, I just started listening to Shellac properly yesterday. Excellent Italian Greyhound grates on somewhat, but 1,000 Hours is great. I can hear a lot of Mclusky Do Dallas in it, unsurprisingly I suppose. Now I need to listen to Action Park.

I kinda like Big Black already. This is a great post on them on One Base On an Overthrow:

josephlovesit said...

Metallic, yes I definitely agree with that.

Thanks, I'll check that post out.