The Units are the kind of band whose greatness seems to have been obscured by the passing of time. The endless retrospectives of post-punk all too often skip over their role in the rise of the synth. Instead we heave buckets of sloppy sycophantic love onto Throbbing Gristle, Devo and Gary Numan, passing straight by the San Francisco synthpunk scene's heroes without stopping.
Don't get me wrong - Devo and Numan were undeniably innovative and great. If you are prepared to wade through it some of Throbbing Gristle's output is also fantastic. The strange thing is that the Units are just as great as any of these and anyone else from the synth heavy post-punk new wave movement, yet almost no-one has heard of them. Much like Devo and TG, the Units' records felt like an art experiment, veering from one idea to the next, each track like a self-contained canvas: warm and abstract here, falling up the stairs against an electric rock and roll rhythm there.
There have been attempts to re-surface the band - single re-releases, remixes and a well-worth-seeking-out reissue (History of the Units - the Early Years: 1977-1983) - but none of these has really caught on. Maybe that's for the best and they can remain the slightly obscure source of much affection from those that know. Or maybe this latest set of remixes, part of a collection that came as a result of founding member Scott Ryser meeting up with Italian DJ and producer Gianluca Pandullo, will make a difference.
The Connections EP features three tracks from two remixers. Todd Terje (Norway's hottest export since the, erm, Lefse) turns in a remix of 'High Pressure Days' and Pandullo, (here I-Robots) does versions of 'Warm Moving Bodies' and 'Zombo'.
Terje's joyful It's The Arps EP has been making waves over the past few months and it's interesting to hear him apply his style to a much rougher sound on what is probably the Units' best known track. In the bouncing electronics and tight, slightly dampened percussion there is a similarity to Terje's own work, but here it is backing up a slightly noisy punk record. 'High Pressure Days' is already a fantastic record with its smatterings of arpeggiator and broad splashes across the cymbals making a noisy mess of treble and warm mid-range melodies. Terje does well and leaves much of it alone, simply making a version that hangs around a little longer and sounds ever so slightly more contemporary - it doesn't add a huge amount to the original but it doesn't kill any of it either.
The first of I-Robots' remixes, 'Warm Moving Bodies', is the most different to the original of the three tracks here, and probably therefore the most worthwhile if you know the material. The original's three-minute are stretched out to almost eight and the result is a taught nervous affair, dubby drums and bass creating a darker piece that maintains the experimentalism that made the Units what they were in the first place.
The even longer mix of 'Zombo' is arguably little more than a fan's love letter, taking the original's combination of psych-out ambience meets celebratory synth and almost doubling it in length, adding some more space and a bit of noodling and not much else. Imagine the more electronic moments of the Flash Gordon soundtrack via Brian Eno and Aphex Twin's garden shed and you will have a good idea of what to expect. It sounds like floating in space with the cast of Playschool and in my mind that's a pretty glorious thing.
None of these remixes are essential but none of them are bad either and they are at least made by producers who are clearly fans. If this release wins the Units a few more of those then it will be a worthwhile endeavour.
Connections EP is out now on Opilec Music, available on MP3 from Amazon.co.uk [affiliate link].