What’s your damage?
The artistic process is a driven one, and often, the driver is some trauma. The particular driver of Slint — the legendary Louisville quartet that spawned as many bands as it did hyphenated attempts at finding a genre to explain its particular brand of precise, lurching, brainy, mathy rock (or is it post-rock? See, there’s one) – has been a matter of speculation since their largely posthumous rise to prominence. Their albums’ stark imagery and minimal information added an air of mystery to the band’s already singular aura.
Touch and Go Records is set to rerelease “Spiderland,” Slint’s most well-known and –revered album, and with it release “Breadcrumb Trail,” a documentary by filmmaker Lance Bangs which seeks to flesh out the band’s story. It’s from a fan’s perspective that Bangs provides a frame: he’s a guy who, like many of us, kinda stumbled onto the band’s work, reached the same dead informational end, and started seeking out the few-and-far-between, almost apocryphal performances by ex-members (going so far as to geek out on camera when he bumps into one of them at a Louisville party). This framework is endearing – this dude is one of us! – and effective, as the film backtracks to the early and mid-eighties, when drummer Britt Walford and guitarist Brian McMahon, both at the tender age of eleven, start a hardcore band called Languid and Flaccid and play shows with older, more established Louisville hardcore bands, who are roundly amazed that this band of kids too little to lug their own gear into the club can hang. From there, we learn about future Slinters joining the various permutations of Squirrel Bait, and marvel as eventual Slint guitarist David Pajo’s band Maurice manages to network to Glenn Danzig and tour with his post-Misfits outfit Samhain.
As “Breadcrumb Trail” unfolds, Bangs’ directoral choices effectively straddle the line of Slint’s intention: Britt Walford’s charming parents, on a couch above the basement that served as the band’s practice space, calmly but proudly discuss the hours the band spent perfecting every sonic detail of the handful of songs they wrote. This attention to detail adds fuel to aura of mystique that has typified discussions of Slint. But even as the band practices their time changes, they hand-draw J-cards for self-recorded cassettes of themselves taking noisy shits.
Slint records their debut LP “Tweez” with Steve Albini – a recording which contains sonic choices that alienate bassist Ethan Buckler, leading to his departure. Both Buckler (who later recorded decidedly more light-hearted fare as King Kong) and Albini are forthright in their respective discussion of the recording process and their mindsets at the time. In fact, all of the film’s interviewees are articulate and down-to-earth, though seeing a skinny Jason Noble and a typically jovial Jon Cook, both of the Louisville powerhouse Rodan, both unfortunately deceased since their interviews, adds a somber note. (And the requisite Ian MacKaye cameo, describing something as “insane,” can be checked off the list, as well.)
After “Tweez,” and during the band’s college years, they reconvene to record “Spiderland,” their creepy watershed. If there’s a criticism to be made about the film, it’s the level of detail in which each of the album’s six songs are dissected. With that said, the Spiderland discussion ultimately works: the level of attention and detail lavished on the album by a variety of narrators serves to illuminate both sides of the solemn/goofy dichotomy – and to pull viewers unfamiliar with “Spiderland” into the album with enough background to somehow transcend the music itself.
On the brink of Slint’s first European tour, intended to promote the Touch and Go release of Spiderland, the band breaks up. For years, the rumors swirling around the band had some member, or members, going insane during the recording process. It’s nothing quite so dramatic. Bangs briefly and tastefully describes the incident which proves to be the clean break in the band’s spine. In thinking back to the film, this part of it is most remarkable. In the story of a band – any band – there are always little things which later prove to ripple out into larger tremors, complete with aftershocks. Lance Bangs, as shown in his first-person introduction, is a fan, with all the sentimentality and geekery that comes packed into the word. But he doesn’t dwell, and he doesn’t overemote: with a light touch, he gives viewers everything they need to reconstruct Slint’s breakup from both the trauma side and the other side. It’s a wonderfully deft, wonderfully real way to begin the wrap-up of Slint’s narrative, one befitting the legacy of the band itself.
“Breadcrumb Trail” is screening around the world. Go see it:
April 4-6 - Missoula, MT at The Roxy Theater
April 6 - Dallas, TX at the Texas Theatre
(Skype Q & A w/Lance)
April 6 - London, UK at Institute of Contemporary Arts
April 7 - Brighton, Dukes at Komedia
April 7 - Austin, TX at Alamo Draft House - the Ritz
April 7 & 8 - Nashville, TN at the Belcourt Theatre
April 13 - Louisville, KY at Dreamland Film Center
April 14 - Louisville, KY at Headliners Music Hall
(w/Lance and Slint band members)
April 15 - Portland, ME at Space Gallery
(Skype Q&A w/Lance)
April 15 - Phoenix, AZ at FilmBar
April 16 - Chicago, IL at Music Box Theatre with Lance Bangs and Slint band members
April 16 - Lexington, KY at Farish Theater
April 16 - Columbus, OH at Gateway Film Center
April 16 - Kansas City, MO at Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet
April 19 - Pittsburgh, PA at The Hollywood Dormont
April 30 - Cambridge, MA at the Brattle Theatre
May 22 - Memphis, TN at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
May 13 - Derby, UK at Derby Film Festival
June 11 in Minneapolis
Michael T. Fournier