Friday, July 31, 2009
History of the Units
I am super super excited to announce that Community Library has just issued an anthology of early singles and demos by The Units, a San Francisco synth band from the late 70s/early 80s. Paul Dickow, one half of Community Library, and I used to play in a band together when we both lived in Portland. The Units was one of the first things he ever played for me, it was a few years before we heard the Screamers and a few years after we were bored of Devo. Before I heard the CD, I was pretty sure that my adoration for these songs, especially "High Pressure Days" came from that perfect historical moment in my life ten years ago. I was totally wrong, these songs are amazing and really really welcome. It's far less aggressive than Screamers, but still super focused and sharp, avoiding the aimlessness and self involved musical exploration of prog or even their contemporaries like Tuxedomoon. I may say from time to time that I hate guitars but I definitely didn't mean it the way these guys did. The CD liner notes begin "It was 1978 and guitar boy bands had been the norm for over 25 years. They still are. I was sick of the sameness. The lack of choice... Guitars had become a negative symbol to me. They represented 'socially acceptable' dissent for young people." So the Units were an all-synth band. The cool thing is that the liner notes kind of let go of this provocative tone and continue to explain their relationship to the performance and video art movements of the time, and the way in which their band worked as a unified act of resistance to everything they saw in the guitar band, like the way they rejected the idea of "front man" and the way that they embraced they embraced the automatic, one-touch aspect of synths: "We switched on cruise control on our synthesizers, so that they played a loud factory drone all by themselves. It freed us up to smash things."
Sometimes while listening to the CD I imagine Paul and I sitting on the floor in our house listening to this record in a time when I didn't really know about the internet and so we really didn't even know how many record the Units had or what happened to them. And so it's really inspiring to realize that it's 10 years later and Paul fully tracked them down and made this amazing, carefully curated and arranged object that solves all of our anxiety about how hard the records were to find. You can even get it on vinyl.
Posted by Ethan Swan