At his peak, the Wipers' Greg Sage could evoke the grey winter skies and rain soaked streets of the bands hometown Portland with a flick of his amp switch, channeling themes ranging from social alienation to alien abduction and wrapping them in a haze of paranoid imagery and blistering guitar playing that was virtually unrivalled in punk circles at the time. The sense of outsider culture that permeates the songs on his band's first three classic albums probably had roots in the Wipers near hermetic tendencies and relative isolation from any external scene: Sage was fiercely independent, choosing to self-release the bands early records and build his own equipment, with his sense of willfulness evidently finding its way into the music. Ignoring the more popular trends of the time, he opted for deeper, more expansive songwriting on 1981’s Youth of America
, the bands dread filled follow-up to debut album Is This Real?
. Where its predecessor focused on short, punchy blasts of punk that combined brooding unease with powerpop choruses, YOA
embraces long, dramatic songs and claustrophobic atmospherics, allowing Sage’s growing creativity and instrumental prowess to come to the fore. The hypnotic psych-punk of the title track is not just the highlight of the record but a classic of the 1980s underground; standing at ten minutes long, it’s an anthemic call to arms propelled by a burning guitar riff that hurtles through a bleak sonic wasteland of crackling feedback and spoken-word vocals. When the final notes of album closer “When It’s Over” come through the speakers it’s easy to see why the Wipers influence resonated deep into the US underground and beyond, even if Greg Sage remains an underappreciated figure.