Wednesday, December 27, 2006

You'd better watch out / You'd better beware: The Wipers

One thing that separates a scene from a simple group of bands in a region is that, somehow, elements of the geography make it into the music itself. I can't really explain why this is the case, but for some reason, those early Soundgarden, Nirvana, Green River, and Tad records simply sound rainy, damp, and muddy, and the reason has to do with more than just the guitar sound. One cannot imagine a group of fellas in Houston or Los Angeles writing and recording "Flower" or "Daisy"; the result simply wouldn't be the same. This is also true of Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, who embody the grimy, industrial nature of Cleveland; effete New Yorker scumbags like Lydia Lunch and Jon Spencer; and Minneapolis punks, like the early Replacements and Soul Asylum, who have a sniffly, sneezy, coughy, achy, stuffy head, feverish quality unique to regions where winters last for six months and reach bone-breakingly cold temperatures.

The Wipers also had that aforementioned rainy, damp, muddy sound, only they had it ten years before Sub Pop and grunge exploded: the Wipers' recorded and released their first record, Is This Real? (Park Avenue Records), in 1979. Although they have been correctly classified as a punk band, they formed well away from/before any larger scene (and thus, away from hidebound rules about punk rock appearance, song structure, etc.) and developed a unique, melancholy sound of their own. Although Is This Real? contains plenty of straightforward punk rock rave-ups ("Let's Go Away," "Don't Know What I Am"), it's the other material that interests me more. You can hear the (underappreciated) influence that they had on, for example, Nirvana. Even "Return of the Rat" shifts in a manner unlike most other punk songs.

Like The Fall and Guided by Voices, the Wipers' membership rotated around a single member--in this case, Greg Sage. On Is This Real and the Alien Boy ep, Dave Koupal plays bass and Sam Henry drums; by the time of the second Wipers record (Youth of America), they had been replaced by Brad Davidson and Brad Naish, respectively.

A pretty good history can be found here. Although the Wipers released records well into the 90s, it's their first three that are essential. Happily, Sage's label (Zeno Records) sells a box set containing all three records plus a ton of bonus material--for only $17! Also, Portland's Jackpot Records has reissued Is This Real? on audiophile-quality vinyl.

The first three songs come from Is This Real?, and "Alien Boy" comes from, erm, the Alien Boy ep. At some point, we'll cover Youth of America and Over the Edge. Also, the Wipers are one of those rare bands who have been covered quite well (by Nirvana, the Mono Men, the Melvins, Crackerbash, and many others); at some point, we'll devote a post to some of the excellent covers

The Wipers--Return of the Rat
The Wipers--Potential Suicide
The Wipers--Window Shop for Love
The Wipers--Alien Boy



yannick said...

the wipers rule, the melvins cover "youth of america" is great
I have the cd silver sail (the cd is very monotone)

Sebastian J said...

Love The Wipers. Greg Sage rules!

landquest said...

hey, thanks for posting info on the wipers

any chance you can reup the mp3's? i tried the links and they seem either expired or broken

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