I go with gut feeling a lot when it comes to music. In a weird way, I often get a sense about whether I’ll enjoy a band before I even listen to them. It’s like I’m driven to seek them out and just know I’m meant to hear their work. This isn’t the same as hearing a new band’s name bandied about blogs; this usually happens to me with older or established bands.
In the case of Wipers, the cult Portland post-punk/pre-grunge-era three-piece, when I first heard their name I knew they were a band I needed to investigate. And almost immediately I started seeing them mentioned in different places, like a little flag saying ‘Hey! We’re waiting!’.
So I got stuck in.
And if you’ve ever listened to them, you’ll know where this goes.
The ironic thing is that their music wasn’t what I was really seeking out at the time – isn’t that always the way? But this… well, this was pretty special.
Pitchfork recently featured a comprehensive and passionate article about the band written by Nick Sylvester, which focuses on the band’s first three albums (Is This Real?, Youth of America and Over the Edge), the ones which I personally am most familiar with.
It’s a great read and a look at why people find Greg Sage, Sam Henry and Dave Koupal so fascinating. Some of the bands Wipers influenced – like Melvins, Dinosaur Jr, Pavement – went on to become more famous than their idols could have dreamed of. But there’s always something that bit more interesting about the bands whose names are only rarely scribbled on teenagers’ notebooks, I find.
I love this quote from the Pitchfork piece:
A lot of bands, my own included, claim Wipers as an influence, but it’s a tough one to back up. At best it’s spiritual. At worst you’re ripping these guys off and hoping no one catches you.
Wipers have a rough, angry edge to their music – it’s unpolished, uncompromising and unapologetic. But it’s melodic, too, with its punch-the-air, sing-along choruses. The relationship between the vocals and music can even seem discordant at times.
Sage’s lyrics have a depth to them that takes a while to be seen. He’s singing of alienation, of suicide, of darkness, of war, real and imagined, and of no-longer-giving-a-fuck; of roaming a boring American suburban town and teetering on the edge of a metaphoric cliff.
This music is vital and thrilling. Delving even further into their back catalogue excites me, but based on what I have already heard of their later releases, I don’t know if they ever topped those first three albums.
Here’s a clip from a documentary on Portland’s DIY scene – I love Sage’s comment at the very beginning:
And my personal favourite, the Sonic Youth-esque Doom Town from Over the Edge: