Out of print for nearly two decades, Flipper's debut has been a touchstone for everyone from Nirvana to modern misanthropists like Pissed Jeans. Nothing about Generic should work—tuneless, angry guitars throw punches at oblong bass lines, and drums barely keep time as Will Shatter and Bruce Lose bellow into life's endless abyss. Yet, for all its discord, the album is like the punk-rock equivalent to existential literature, finding profundity in the darkest subjects and even making room for some black humor (see “Ever,” where Lose deadpans, “Ever look at a flower—and hate it?”). But it's “Life” that sums it up—as Shatter screams, “Life! Life! Life is the only thing worth living for!” It's as close as punk has ever come to a proverb.
Harmonia & Eno '76Tracks and Traces(Gronland/High Wire)
Having split up by the summer of '76, German electronic pioneers Harmonia were brought back together by the prospect of working with producer Brian Eno, who was in country recording David Bowie's Low. The sessions were shelved for years until renewed interest brought them out of the vaults in 1997, albeit in a somewhat bastardized form. Those involved weren't satisfied with the mix or track listing on that version, so a beautiful re-interpretation is presented here, easily rivaling both artists' better-known works of the period. Vacillating between heart-stopping melodic compositions (“Welcome,” “Almost”) to epic, spacey drifts (“Sometimes in Autumn”), Tracks and Traces is a must-own for any fan of ambient music.
Second LayerWorld of Rubber(Cherry Red)
Adrian Borland was among the best pure songwriters of the '80s, and his main project, The Sound, released two albums (1979's Jeopardy and 1981's From the Lion's Mouth) that make most other records of the post-punk era sound slight in comparison. During that period, Borland and Sound bassist Graham Bailey quietly released “experimental” work under the name Second Layer, most of which is collected on their sole full-length, World of Rubber. Anchored by Bailey's homemade drum machine and studio trickery, Borland's haunted lyrics linger like the ghost of a soul in unrest (he committed suicide in 1999) as his sharp guitar playing rips painfully through the mix. Considering that minimal post-punk has seen a resurgence lately, it's a wonder no one has championed this early electronic-rock hybrid, especially with tunes as urgent as the forceful “Fixation.”
The UnitsThe History of the Units: The Early Years 1977–1983(Community Library)
Devoted to challenging the status quo, San Francisco's The Units turned a shattered mirror on mass-produced culture, performing with only keyboards and percussion but causing as big a ruckus as their more traditionally “punk” contemporaries. Like fellow West Coast misfits The Screamers, they've gone largely overlooked until the release of this brilliant compilation of rare singles and demos. While Devo comparisons are apt, The Units specialized in a different form of satire, presenting themselves as human beings as opposed to caricatures of them. And they rocked harder than their counterparts, with robust, distorted keyboard work that still sounds remarkably huge. There's hardly been a more appropriate time to revisit their defining track, “High Pressure Days,” than right now.
Various ArtistsForge Your Own Chains: Heavy Psychedelic Ballads and Dirges 1968–1974(Now-Again / Stones Throw)
Leave it to the obsessive crate-diggers at Now-Again to put in the legwork for such a stellar collection of ultra-rare songs. Forge Your Own Chains is as much a testament to the continued relevance of reissue campaigns as it is one of the most enjoyable and naturally flowing comps of the past several years. Small revelations abound, and whether it's the thick grooves of East of Underground's “Smiling Faces Sometimes” or Ofege's deceptively joyful “It's Not Easy,” every tune here stakes a strong claim for lost-classic status. But it's the closing cut, Baby Grandmothers' nine-minute “Somebody Keeps Calling My Name,” that trumps the rest, a Finnish hard-rock burner that stands head-to-toe with the finest guitar music of the '60s, Hendrix included.