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+ {The For Carnation}

From the ashes of SQUIRREL BAIT, more or less, post-hardcore/math-rock band SLINT emerged as one of America’s most seminal and dissident underground acts of the grunge era. When most rebellious kids of America, and beyond, were shaking their hairy heads to the heavy-metal punk sounds of NIRVANA and MUDHONEY, this quartet spliced the pace to a bare minimum. There’s no doubt the like of TORTOISE, MOGWAI and GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR would be forever in their debt.
Formed in 1987, in Louisville, Kentucky, singer/guitarist Brian McMahan reunited with former SQUIRREL BAIT alumni Britt Walford (drums) and Ethan Buckler (bass); and in the process found guitarist David Pajo (from Solution Unknown). These influential noiseniks made their debut in September 1989 with the harsh and pseudo-industrial mini-set, TWEEZ {*6}. Basically self-financed, recorded late ’87, and issued on the Jennifer Hartman imprint, the sprawling STEVE ALBINI-produced record was indeed a willfully weird clutch of mainly instrumental bass-led creations, bizarrely named after all their parents, and a dog named Rhoda.
While Walford (alias Shannon Doughton) moonlighted on The BREEDERS first album, `Pod’, Buckler would duly leave to form KING KONG. His replacement, Todd Brashear, was installed as work commenced on a Brian Paulson-produced sophomore set, SPIDERLAND {*9}. Upon its release for Touch & Go Records in April ‘91, the album generated a healthy amount of column inches, all praising its barren wildernesses and climactic landscapes; Scotland’s own MOGWAI later cited the record as a pivotal reference point. Whilst rumours circulated that the pain-vs-pleasure album had almost sent SLINT over the edge, admission from punk-rock purgatory beyond the gates of heaven was surely granted soft-cop/bad-cop big ticket items, `Breadcrumb Trail’, `Nosferatu Man’, `Washer’ and `Good Morning, Captain’.
The individual members were thankfully sane enough to work within various projects, including WILL OLDHAM’s Palace Brothers (McMahan, Walford and Brashear) and TORTOISE (Pajo). A final postscript to the SLINT story came in mid ‘94 with the release of a double-A side (“untitled”) single, `Glenn’ / `Rhoda’; the latter, as previously stated, from ‘89.
McMahan however, embarking on his own wittily-titled adventure, The FOR CARNATION, alongside buddy Pajo and TORTOISE members Doug McCombs (bass) and John Herndon (drums). The quartet, plus credited engineer Grant Barger, kick-started their campaign for Matador Records in spring ’95. The 15-minute-long `Fight Songs’ EP (comprising `Grace Beneath The Pines’, `How I Beat The Devil’ and `Get And Stay Get March’), probably didn’t stretch their SLINT patina too much, though devotees were still happy-go-miserably content.
When Pajo formed M Is The Thirteenth Letter (then AERIAL M), he was replaced by Michael McMahan (Brian’s brother), drummer John Weiss and producer Brad Wood, who all registered their membership on mini-set, MARSHMALLOWS (1996) {*7}. To say it wasn’t a million miles from both SLINT and TORTOISE would be an understatement, although the quirky `Lymr, Marshmallow’ was the exception to the rule. As in his previous incarnation, the murmuring McMahan spun out the dizzying guitars; culminating with the near-9-minute `Preparing To Receive You’. And adding COHEN-esque incoherence to the mix, a slightly surreal view of life encouraged Brian’s lyrics, in order to influence and reach higher dynamic points within the scope of his sound and vision.
The McMahan brothers Brian and Michael; third guitarist/keyboardist Bobb Bruno, bassist Todd Cook, and moonlighting RADAR BROS drummer Steve Goodfriend (plus guests including JOHN McENTIRE, Kim Deal, Rachel Haden, Rafe Mandel and Britt Walford), carried the quintet beyond the millennium and onto a wondrous eponymous album, THE FOR CARNATION (2000) {*8}; released on Touch & Go Records (Domino in the UK). But for the eerie vocal tones of Brian McMahan, ghostly touches of jazz-rock gave the impression that he’d moored his mind on TORTOISE recordings. Pushing any negatives to one side, the heightened calm-before-the-storm impact came no better than opening cue, `Emp. Man’s Blues’, plus `Snoother’ and `Moonbeams’.
Brian then chose to opt out of the music biz; although from time to time he re-united SLINT for the odd live appearance in addition to performing with James Tamborello’s DNTEL.
© MC Strong/MCS 2003/GI&AD // rev-up MCS Jul2019

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