Since its release in early 1991, months before alternative rock would explode into wider public consciousness with Nirvana’s Nevermind, Spiderland has been a record shrouded in mystery. Little was known about this quiet, mysterious release that Touch and Go records put out to almost no reception and its creators, Slint had already broken up. The only proof that this record hadn’t landed from outer space was the four ghostly, subterranean, drenched humans, who represented, we assumed, the band themselves.
Over the years however, Spiderland has grown a reputation as an adored and canonised record, which has inspired many to pick up a guitar, bass or drum sticks and make their own introspective noise. The record is cited as being huge influences in both the post-rock and emo movements of the 90’s and this, coupled with the mystique, makes Slint its generation’s Velvet Underground.
Director Lance Bangs was active in the late 80’s/early 90’s alternative rock music scene in Athens, Georgia. However, even he had no clues as to who wrote the record he, like so many others, has held in such adulation. Thus Breadcrumb Trail is to some extent his personal exploration into the largely unknown people behind this unparalleled piece; a surrogate for the ever increasing amount of fans this band and record gain yearly.
What we find in Bangs’ search through the borderlands city of Louisville, Kentucky, are a group of inspired, if slightly mad, affable musicians who were still only teenagers when they created their masterpiece. Bangs does an excellent job of detailing their, then still short, upbringings; being nurtured by creative down-town free-schools, supportive parents and an insulated but vital music scene which all enabled the band to create their opus. Through present day interviews we see the band’s members looking back largely fondly at their formative years, exposing a real humility and humour one would expect from teenagers, but is perhaps often lost in a record regularly documented as sounding “dark” or “serious” or “brooding”.
Most striking of all is watching early footage of their rehearsal process in drummer and songwriter Britt Walford’s parent’s basement, complimented by grainy, Super 8 shot footage of Louisville, where this incredibly youthful band would practice these songs for hours on end until they were perfect. While interviews with local Louisvillians and studio engineers Steve Albini and Brian Paulson certainly colour the song writing and recording process, it is highly inspirational and enviable to see such young musicians push themselves, while maintaining a sense of humour about themselves.
Ultimately, Breadcrumb Trail excellently dispels of the idea that Spiderland was created in a vacuum, showing these individuals to be charming, self-effacing and hugely talented. Its legacy and mystique is maintained through the hugely respected musicians interviewed or at least mentioned or inspired by association with the record; without unnecessarily exploring the band’s own influences or showing reunion footage. While vocalist Brian McMahan confirms the band ended due to his having to be institutionalised briefly after recording, it is quite incredible how many people the record has touched and how the band continued to work together in other guises, since there was no real breakdown between its members. Finally, we have a documentary worthy of the record.