Friday, May 20, 2016

Wipers - Youth of America

Covered under the sandstormed history of rock n’ roll is a band that never really reached a wider audience, yet at times it feels as if they conquered the world at some point because the people who have heard of them exhibit their find in a manner an archeologist would display a long lost navel stud of Queen Cleopatra – and with good reason, the band definitely deserves the acclaim. 

Wipers hail from Portland, a former punk rock capital of the West Coast US, releasing six albums throughout the 80’s and three more in the 90’s. The main reason for the phantom-like existence of Wipers are conscious decisions made by frontman Greg Sage to avoid touring, interviews, photo-shoots, music videos and the glamour of rock n’ roll. He thought of music as art rather than entertainment and shunning publicity would help the listener experience more intimacy and find deeper meaning while listening to their records. Sage was endorsed but an outcast at the same time among the highly prejudiced punk rockers, wearing the most uncool clothes he could find instead of a leather jacket, writing longer, more structurally complicated songs and having extra guitar gimmicks which was all uncommon amidst the army of hardcore punk bands with an in-your-face attitude. Youth of America (1981) features these characteristics most prominently, with an addition of a subtle piano in some parts and occasionally elongated verses, notably the title track of the album which is 10 minutes long and has a stretch of peculiar soundscapes and disciplined drums and bass guitar components.

The album has a melancholic if not a pessimistic tone with occasional bursts of frustration that is the leitmotif of most Sage’s work, without having an overly wailing impression at all but rather a mystic obscurity. The music is like a slow and steady truck, roaring around the corner, while always seeming to speed up to run you over. The unique sound of Wipers owes much to the technological approaches Sage used which were considered “prehistoric” by his contemporaries in the recording studios at the time, while Sage saw great opportunities in using the certain equipment called “vacuum tube direct” and studying it carefully, experimenting with it and building things he needed for his specific idea of what sounded good.
The first one on the record, “Taking Too Long” starts off quite mellow, but immediately hints in the chorus that something is about to break, it’s a song that yearns for things to change and as the choruses progress after each verse they become more powerful and grow into a repetitive expression of dissatisfaction with the current state of being. The second number kicks off more vigorously and asks a similar question of “how long can this be?” throughout the choruses and with the third song continues to express confusion and a gut-wrenching endeavor to make sense of it all. “When It’s Over” changes the pace of the album with having a long intro while the low muttering whispers of quite incomprehensible lyrics are compensated by the cosmic-screeching  guitar, showing the mastery Sage has over making his instrument sound like an eel being burned alive. The penultimate “No Fair” attempts to be the slow one of the album with a serene intro, but soon enough, seemingly whether it wants to or not, drives into the same pattern of pacing restlessness. The last piece stands on its own, switching from an inward perspective of the earlier songs to a pessimistic view on the narrator’s surroundings. Being fed up with an oppressive force, the song seems to address the “youth of America” to stand up for themselves and improve their circumstances. The long ballad takes the turmoil of the other songs and says “enough, I can’t take this anymore, things need to change”, this is the revolution “Taking Too Long” was yearning for. The songs’ lyrics can of course be interpreted in many different ways as most of them are cryptically poetic and provide a canvas and tools for the listener to use their own imagination. 

While Wipers successfully didn’t make it big commercially, they are considered to be one of the most influential bands for the explosive grunge scene of the 90’s and late 80’s particularly because of the “music is art” approach which was an inspiring attitude for the young bands who had among them Nirvana, whose frontman Kurt Cobain organized a fourteen-song tribute album by various artists. Nowadays Greg Sage is located in Arizona as he attends to Zenorecords, his studio where he sells Wipers related merchandise, CD’s and vinyls as well as solo-albums.

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