Flipper does not so much make music to listen to as music by which to be bludgeoned. (And if you can read that sentence first pass without throwing up, you’re ready for the big-boy Tilt-a-Whirl.) Their first album has a peculiar physical power — the effect of listening to “(I Saw You) Shine” can be approximated by contracting clinical depression and beating oneself over the head with a rubber mallet. To maximize the quality of the listening experience, play out loud, no headphones involved. Teensy little brain-wrap speakers distort the super-lo-fi noise and sludge into garbled, pixelated shit. I suggest buying the record as well, since vinyl is undergoing a temporary revival and thus Flipper’s work is currently in print.
The irony, of course, is that you will need quality equipment to enjoy an album that sounds like shit. I read once that the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” was recorded in one take by hanging a single microphone from the ceiling, and the sound of the album at hand makes me suspect that “Chris and Flipper” recorded with a similar setup.
I admit that I didn’t like Generic Flipper at all when I began listening to it. If I had previewed it on the Internet before buying the CD at Streetlight, I would have probably given up on it and bought Gone Fishin’ or that blank bootleg CD with the packaging of The Complete 1982 Demos instead. As I turned it on for the first time I was baffled by the squealing guitars that opened “Ever,” and then the actual riff began with a crack of the un-miked drums. It was the queasiest fucking riff I think I’ve ever heard. There’s more dry wind than music in its motif — it seems to be powered primarily by Ted Falconi’s noise guitar, and lacks the basslines that drive the other tracks. The airy atonality makes”Ever” the most difficult song herein, and unsurprisingly Flipper decided to open their first album with it. What assholes.
It’s a bit of an outlier, though. Most other tracks rest on perplexing chromatic bass riffs in 4/4 which the band proceeds to drive into the ground. The trademark beat is not a punk doop-chick, but a series of barely accented thuds; during the first few listens, “songs” like “Life Is Cheap” and “Shine” are repulsive and abrasive. And waaay too long.
The only thing that Generic Flipper seems to have in common with other “punk” music is its pessimism, and even that doesn’t last longer than the first side. Myself,I’m a big fan of Flipper’s philosophy (known in academic circles as absurdism), which is a peculiarly invigorating blend of “shit happens” and “I’m a human, dammit!” sentiments — people are victimized, certainly, but are ultimately not victims. The righteous individualism and pounding beat makes it a great album to play in the car, if not around other people. (Maybe you could try blasting “Sex Bomb” at a house party, but only for enlightened college students who are advanced enough to pretend to like it.) The first side, like that of Aja or certain Melvins albums (Bullhead and Lysol come to mind), is much more difficult and obscure than the second; it pounds and pounds, spewing nihilism and sneering rejection of most civilized values. The second side is the humanist document and contains more positive, catchy shit — “Life,” “Way of the World,” “Sex Bomb,” etc. It grows on you much more easily than the likes of “Ever” and “(I Saw You) Shine.”
Which brings me to the ultimate point: I found that the more I listened to it, the less it sucked. Generic Flipper has become an important album in my playlist over the past couple of months, suitable for early-afternoon blasting and post-school catharsis; an excellent recording for the many situations that young urban professionals may encounter in a busy workday. It’s best to play it around the initiated, because Flipper novices will likely react with the same distaste that is characteristic of pretty much everyone’s initial reaction to such music. (Krist Novoselic, who wrote the liner notes for the water123 Records reissue, described his first Generic Flipper session as unproductive.) I advise you, therefore, to take it very slowly. Don’t expect dividends right away for listening to Flipper.
You will definitely be rewarded, though.