The 50 Best Albums You’ve Never Heard

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For all that the internet provides an endless wealth of music, it’s easy to get stuck in the same listening habits after a while. Sometimes it takes someone to come along with a bunch of new tunes to shake you out of such habits, and since we’re as guilty of getting stuck in a listening rut as anyone else, we’ve been amusing ourselves this week at Flavorpill central by delving into our record collections and sharing some of our favorite obscure, under-appreciated albums — and we thought we’d share the results with our readers, too! From the very old to the very new, from cerebral hip hop and exuberant African rhythms to experimental drone and overlooked indie bands, there’s something here for everyone.

All Girl Summer Fun Band — All Girl Summer Fun Band (2001)

Genre: Campfire chants, K Records style

All Girl Summer Fun Band started because, well, Thermals bassist Kathy Foster and three pals had the idea for an “all girl summer fun band.” They followed it up with two albums and an EP, but this self-titled 2002 debut remains the purest expression of the effortlessly infectious indie-pop harmonies that fulfill the promise of the band’s name. If you were on board for last year’s that dog. revival, AGSFB is for you.

Ava Cherry — Astronettes Sessions (2009)

Genre: Spacey glam soul

Cherry was one of David Bowie’s backing vocalists (not to mention his girlfriend) during his Young Americans soul-obsessed era, and the great man himself produced this album — unfortunately, however, Bowie’s subsequent wranglings with both manager and record company meant it never got a release. Cherry finally released it herself a few years back, and it’s a fascinating document of an fascinating era.

Baby Grandmothers — Baby Grandmothers (1968)

Genre: Scandinavian psych

The post-millennial fondness for exhuming and reissuing relatively obscure ’60s records has become a real industry, with labels like Soul Jazz basically making a living out of the idea. Some of the records that have been dug up coulda happily stayed buried, but some of them are genuinely amazing — like this one, the only album released by this Swedish proto-psych trio, way back in 1968. They sound like 13th Floor Elevators, and they apparently once opened for Jimi Hendrix.

Wally Badarou — Echoes (1984)

Genre: Tropical synth wizardry

Badarou was the keyboardist for the house band at legendary Bahamas recording studio Compass Point, which means you hear his special brand of tropical-inflected synth on albums by the likes of Grace Jones, Talking Heads, Robert Palmer, Marianne Faithfull, and various others. His solo work, however, is less well known — which is a shame, because it’s ace, featuring decidedly infectious grooves and a whole lot of awesome synth sounds. (Massive Attack fans will also recognize “Mambo,” above, as the source of the beat sampled on Blue Lines track “Daydreaming.”)

The Bags — All Bagged Up 1977-1980 (2007)

Genre: Cathartic LA punk

From X to the Germs, plenty of Los Angeles bands have survived the past three decades to make it onto every punk fan’s iTunes playlist. But the thrillingly aggressive group that gave living legend Alice Bag — later of Castration Squad, Cholita, and more — her nom de rock never released a studio album, meaning The Bags have all too often remained a footnote in the history books. Thankfully, the band’s few studio recordings, along with a few live performances, demos, and other rarities were eventually collected on this compilation. It isn’t just an artifact, though; riot grrrl fans in particular will want to keep All Bagged Up in heavy rotation.

Bardo Pond — Gazing At Shilla (2009)

Genre: Blissed-out drone/ominous drone

This LP is your correspondent’s all-time favorite getting-writing-done album — it’s two tracks, both instrumental, one all air and light, the other with a decidedly ominous undercurrent. It was only released on limited edition vinyl, but we’re sure you could find a copy if you looked hard enough.

Francois Bayle — L’oiseau Chanteur (1968)

Genre: Freeform ’60s experimentalism

Our weekend editor Alison Nastasi suggested this, and describes it thusly: “He’s sort of like a Pierre Henry. Album has a groovy cover. Very bizarre record for the time. If you were buying Karlheinz Stockhausen LPs in the 1960s, this would also be in your collection.” YES.

BBC Radiophonic Workshop — Doctor Who: The Music (1983)

Genre: Early electronic atmospherics

Delia Derbyshire’s remarkable entirely electronic arrangement of the Doctor Who theme is rightly acclaimed as a landmark in the history of electronica, but it’s not the only piece of Doctor Who-related music that’s worth hearing. This album collates a bunch of incidental music from the series, all from the 1970s and early ’80s. As ever, it’s the earlier music that’s most interesting, but this is all well worth investigating if you’re into either Doctor Who or the development of electronic music in general.

Beauty Pill — The Cigarette Girl from the Future EP (2001)

Genre: Post-rock with a twist of post-punk

Unless you lived in the DC metro area in the early aughts, it’s likely you’ve missed out on Chad Clark’s Beauty Pill. Founded around the turn of the millennium, put on hiatus in 2007 when Clark was stricken with a rare heart condition, and revived a few years later, after he recovered, it’s post-rock with an undertone of angularity appropriate to its label, Dischord. When Beauty Pill’s songs do have lyrics, they’re some of the strangest and most philosophical we’ve heard. Start with this EP — and particularly its darkly comic, retro-futurist title track — and then devour the whole back catalog.

Bee Mask — When We Were Eating Unripe Pears (2012)

Genre: Sounddesigncore

This record largely slipped under the radar on its release late last year, which is a pity, as it’s one of the most beautifully produced records you’ll ever hear. It’s largely about atmospherics and sound design, eschewing melody and song structure for a general sense of immersive bliss. But it also has a sort of internal logic of its own, and listening to it is like journeying into some strange dream whose meaning just manages to elude you.

Black Randy and the Metrosquad — Pass the Dust, I Think I’m Bowie (1979)

Genre: Synth-punk for Lenny Bruce fans

Like The Bags, Black Randy and the Metrosquad were a bit too odd to join even the punk-rock mainstream. But unlike their aforementioned LA contemporaries, relentless provocateur Black Randy (actually a white guy named John Morris) and his band (which boasted none other than Belinda Carlisle as a sometime member) managed to put out one totally bizarre full-length album, 1979’s Pass the Dust, I Think I’m Bowie. Characterized by the most whacked-out sense of humor this side of GG Allin, it was reissued in 2009 so that a whole new generation could fight over its cover of James Brown’s “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud,” a track that’s so intentionally offensive it couldn’t be anything but meta-satire.

Children of the Wave — Carapace (2008)

Genre: Gentle field-recording psych folk

A marriage of opposites — a music writer and a musician, a hardcore punk and an acoustic folk singer — Australian duo Children of the Wave create music that’s truly deserving of the oft-overused adjective “immersive.” Hitting play on Carapace feels like slipping into another place entirely, one that’s as beautiful and warm as it is slightly strange and otherworldly.

Wayne (now Jayne) County and the Electric Chairs — Blatantly Offensive (1978)

Genre: First-wave camp punk

These days it’s not so much blatantly offensive as plain old endearingly awesome, but there’s no doubt that Jayne County remains both a trailblazer for queer punk and one of the ’70s NYC underground’s more under-appreciated figures. And “Fuck Off” remains one of the era’s best songs, a song that works both as a glorious slapdown and a statement of proud and unrepentant transgender identity.

CunninLynguists — A Piece of Strange (2006)

Genre: Southern conceptual hip hop

If you’re one of the many put off by CunninLynguist’s not-actually-that-puntastic name, then we don’t blame you — we were kinda the same, but this labyrinthine 2006 release is worth reconsidering your stance for. It’s a hip hop concept album of the best sort, a deep and involving narrative-driven record that’s even spawned a website dedicated to exploring its complexities.

Holger Czukay — Movies (1979)

Genre: Post-Can solo strangeness

Can were all kinds of awesome, and if you don’t have Ege Bamyasi or Tago Mago in your record collection, we suggest you stop clicking and start buying post haste. But either way, bassist Holger Czukay’s post-Can solo debut is an overlooked joy — “Cool in the Pool” is one of the most weirdly amazing songs you’ll ever hear (and that’s before we even begin to discuss the video, above), and the three other tracks are similarly outlandish, in a very good way.

Dr. Octagon — The Return of Dr. Octagon (2006)

Genre: Controversial, surreal hip hop

Sure, you’ve heard the original Dr. Octagon record, but did you ever hear this? It’s perhaps the most controversial record on this list, largely because of the curious circumstances of its conception, which you can read about here — but the thing is, the controversy around whether it should or shouldn’t be considered a legitimate follow-up to Dr. Octagonecologyst rather obscured the fact that either way, it’s a pretty awesome record, full of weird, twisted takes on the sound of futuristic hip hop.

Dump — That Skinny Motherfucker With the High Voice (1998)

Genre: Purple fuzz

In which Yo La Tengo’s bassist does a series of scuzzy indie-rock covers of Prince songs. File under: unexpectedly great.

Errol Dunkley — Darling Ooh (1973)

Genre: Soulful rocksteady

An overlooked classic of gently beautiful rocksteady from an artist who was big in the 1970s (his single “OK Fred” flirted with the UK top 10 in 1978), but seems to have been forgotten since. This is his debut album, which was released as Introducing Errol Dunkley in 1973 and reissued as Darling Ooh (also the name of one of its tracks) in 1991.

Ex-Centric Sound System — West Nile Funk (2004)

Genre: Yes, West Nile funk

This was recommended by global beat aficionado Fabian Alsultany, who describes it as follows: “beats, African Chanting, dub. They toured the greatest festivals throughout the world and sold their disc stage to stage. Incredible band, sick album, and totally under the radar. Based in Ghana and Israel.” A happy discovery!

Holly and the Italians — The Right to Be Italian (1981)

Genre: Proto-Benetar new wave

It’s a mystery why Holly Beth Vincent’s hilariously titled “Tell That Girl to Shut Up” — a song that is, indeed, about telling some girl to shut up — was never as big a hit as anything Pat Benetar came up with, consigning The Italians’ one and only album to the dollar vinyl bins of history. Dig in here and you’ll find not only tough-girl new wave, but also the kind of backward-looking girl-group pop that paints Vincent as a sort of Betty Rizzo for the 1980s.

Rowland S. Howard — Teenage Snuff Film (1999)

Genre: Misanthropic rock

We’ve extolled Howard’s virtues a great deal on this site, but given that his records are even now only slowly starting to gain the recognition they deserve, why not give them another go-round? He’s best known as the guitarist in the Birthday Party, the band fronted by a pre-Bad Seeds Nick Cave, but his solo work is hugely under-appreciated, especially since it’s just as good as (if not better than) anything his erstwhile band mate has ever released. This 1999 album is his masterpiece, and was recently reissued on vinyl. As your attorneys we advise you to buy it in whatever form you can find it.

Jackie-O Motherfucker — Flags of the Sacred Harp (2005)

Genre: Country-inflected atmospherics

This record inhabits a curious zone somewhere between acoustic alt-country and feedback-driven drone — some tracks (like the marvelous “Hey! Mr. Sky,” above) are largely acoustic, whereas others (like the 16-minute epic “Spirits”) drift off into freeform explorations of atmospheric sound. As a whole, the record is a study in how effective it can be to combine two disparate sounds, and the contrast creates an atmosphere both distinctive and beautiful.

Jobriath — Jobriath (1973)

Genre: Trans-Atlantic post-Bowie flamboyance

We’ve written about the strange and sad career of Jobriath in the past, but it’s worth revisiting for this feature, because quite apart from the tragic narrative that surrounds the record — Jobriath went from being America’s answer to David Bowie to being a penniless AIDS-ravaged Chelsea Hotel resident in less than a decade — the music… well, it has its moments, in a suitably camp ’70s sci-fi kinda way.

Kailasa — Kailasa (2006)

Genre: 21st-century subcontinental fusion

Mumbai-based band Kailasa’s music draws on a wide variety of influences, from qawwali music and Indian classical to more contemporary sounds. Lead vocalist Kailash Kher is one of India’s finest contemporary vocalists, as well as being a genuine rags-to-riches story — he moved to Mumbai in the early ’00s, for a time sleeping between the tracks at Andheri railway station, before his rendition of “Allah ke Bande” from Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II set him on the road to renown, and these days he’s a bona fide star. He formed Kailasa in 2005, and their debut album is a fine showcase for both his vocal talents and the instrumental virtuosity of his all-star band.

Kalyanji Anandji — Commander OST (1981)

Genre: ’80s Bollywood proto-electronica

Also on the subcontinent, this was something of a holy grail for Bollywood aficionados for years, mainly because of the electronic tracks it featured — “Dance Music” and “Itni Jaldi Kya Hai” were both way ahead of their time. It eventually surfaced on the excellent Music from the Third Floor blog, and makes a fine companion piece to the way more hyped 10 Ragas to a Disco Beat.

Kreativ in Den Boden — Disco Sucide (2012)

Genre: Disco angst

We came across this duo last year via their track “Club,” which featured on an epic compilation called Future Echo Tapes that was briefly available free online. We don’t know a whole lot more about them, to be honest, but this record is full of minimal wave-y odes to Eurodisco alienation, which is perfectly OK with us. They also appear to have a new record called Ruins of Overrated Feelings, which we’re looking forward to checking out.

Le Klub des Loosers — Vive La Vie (2004)

Genre: Misanthropic French hip hop

We’ve always been partial to French rap, and this rather overlooked gem from the mid-’00s has long been one of our favorites. It’s the second album by this ever-evolving collective, which has at various times contained members of TTC, Gravité Zero, and other Francophone luminaries, and it contains misanthropy anthem “Baise les Gens” (“Fuck People”), which has soundtracked many a bedsit angst session round our way.

Liliental — Liliental (1978)

Genre: Krautrock all-star jam-band action

A sort of all-star band of the luminaries of the ’70s German music scene, featuring Dieter Moebius, Helmut Hattler, Conny Plank, Alto Pappert, Okko Bekker, and Asmus Tietchens. As with many supergroups, the music here is less than the sum of its parts, but given that its parts are so fascinating, it’s still worth hearing. Where else do you get to hear kosmische yacht rock?

Manzel — Space Funk (1970s, re-released 2002)

Genre: Um, space funk

Manzel are one of those bands that live on in their samples — as far as we know, there are only four actual Manzel tracks ever recorded, but they’ve had the hell sampled out of them by savvy producers over the decades since. WhoSampled.com lists some 50 tracks that have lifted bits of the band’s songs, and god only knows how many more there are out there. The tracks themselves are pretty great, too — we’re particularly partial to the eponymous “Space Funk,” which sounds exactly like you imagine a band playing space funk might sound.

Bob Marley — Dreams Of Freedom: Ambient Translation of Bob Marley in Dub (1997)

Genre: New age dub

Marley’s work has been mined to redundance in the decades since his death, but occasionally something genuinely new comes along — such as this latter-day dub record, wherein producer Bill Laswell reworked a series of the reggae legend’s tracks into ambient dubplates. As the record’s Allmusic entry notes, “the results could have been disastrous,” but thankfully they’re not — indeed, while some tracks work better than others, the record is largely a success, both as gentle listening and as an exercise in re-articulating work that’s long since entered the musical canon.

My Computer – Vulnerabilia (2000)

Genre: Blairite crackhouse ennui

We also wrote about this a while back as a record that should have been successful but wasn’t — for whatever reason, My Computer’s masterful portrait of millennial angst in a drug-hazed basement apartment never got any sort of an audience, despite getting great reviews and being a fine evocation of what it felt like to live through the hangover from the early optimism of the Blair years. These days the record’s hard to track down, but it’s very much worth the effort.

Night Terrors — Back to Zero (2009)

Genre: Theremin-driven horror rock

We’re all for the theremin, but despite the instrument’s manifold possibilities and apparently limitless cool factor, there are surprisingly few musicians who play it really well. Step forward Night Terrors, then, who combine a mean theremin with frenetic bass and decidedly ’80s synths to create music that both ominous and surprisingly danceable. There are obvious parallels to ’80s horror soundtracks here — John Carpenter’s influence looms large — but the band’s sound manages to transcend its influences, creating an atmosphere all its own.

Mike Noga — Folk Songs (2005)

Genre: Overlooked acoustic folk

You may or not be familiar with the glory of The Drones (whose new album dropped yesterday, actually), but either way, their drummer Mike Noga’s solo debut remains one of our favorite overlooked records of the ’00s. His music is very different from that of his band — this is a collection of gentle folk-influenced narrative tunes that are both beautiful and curiously surreal (take the lyrics to “Long Summer Days,” for instance, which are both pretty and really rather strange.)

Ofege — Try And Love (1973)

Genre: Nigerian high school Afrorock

Another ’70s obscurity that was brought lovingly into the 21st century, with a re-release in 2009 by NYC record company Academy LPs. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this record — apart from the joyously infectious music contained therein — is that it was made while its creators were still in high school. The members of Ofege all attended Gregory’s College in Lagos, Nigeria, and there’s a real youthful joie de vivre about the album — they’re also remarkably precocious musicians, and clearly needed little invitation to launch into a good guitar solo or three. The band made three more albums together, but as far as we’re concerned, this remains the best.

Padded Cell — Night Must Fall (2008)

Genre: Hypercolor electronic pop

We went through a real hankering for this sort of music a few years back, and London duo Padded Cell’s debut remains our favorite example of the genre. Their sound is all squelchy analog synths and post punk-y influences, like a latter-day Liquid Liquid getting messy on a rave-era dance floor. The were signed to most excellent label DC Recordings (also home to The Emperor Machine, amongst others), an imprint whose output seems to have slowed of late. It’s a shame, because we’d love to hear more.

Panoptique Electrical — Let the Darkness at You (2008)

Genre: Somnolent ambience

Producer Jason Sweeney, aka Panoptique Electrical, apparently designed this record along very utilitarian lines — it was designed to help him sleep, and while describing music as a “cure for insomnia” is usually a backhandedly bitchy comment, it’s entirely justified and complimentary here. Let the Darkness at You is strange and soothing, evoking the weird space that exists somewhere between sleeping and waking, and it’s been successful more than once in easing us off into the land of nod when all else has failed.

The Pop Group — For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (1980)

Genre: Dub-inflected political post-punk

The ATP-catalyzed reunion of The Pop Group a couple of years back was a cause for widespread celebration in certain corners of the indie world, but beyond aficionados, their recorded output remains largely overlooked. Their sound represented perhaps the logical conclusion of UK punk’s infatuation with reggae, mixing punk’s manic energy and strident lyricism with Jamaican music’s melodic and rhythmic freedom. This record remains hard to find, but surely someone’s going to reissue it sooner or later.

Suckdog — Drugs Are Nice (1989)

Genre: Sleepover party gone wrong

Drugs may indeed be nice, but they also result in you making records like this. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, although we do worry about the enduring mental health of Lisa Crystal Carver and her revolving cast of co-conspirators.

Rhino — Irreconcilable Differences (2011)

Genre: Socialist hip hop

There’s a whole treatise waiting to be written on why genuinely left-wing hip hop is such a rare thing — as a genre, it seems to focus more on transcending poverty than eradicating it, on winning the game rather than changing the rules. Whatever the reasons behind this, it means that Bronx-based MC Rhino is a rarity, an artist whose work concentrates on unfashionable ideas like the redistribution of wealth and, in “Pencil Pusher” above, the alienation of produce and labor (and, more prosaically, the tedium of being stuck in a crappy job.) And quite apart from his politics, his vocals are pretty great, too.

Riechmann — Wunderbar (1978)

Genre: Overlooked kosmische goodness

A great lost record of the Krautrock era, largely because of the tragic events that followed its release: Wofgang Riechmann apparently worked with more well-known contemporaries like Neu! and Kraftwerk, and this was his debut solo album. It should have been the first of many, but sadly he was stabbed to death only three weeks after its release. It was reissued a couple of years back by excellent German label Bureau B, who seem to specialize in such things.

Serafina — The Moths are Real (2013)

Genre: Cohen-esque harpistry

Produced by Jarvis Cocker, who clearly has an eye for an unusual talent, this album is the debut by UK harpist/vocalist Serafina. Cocker seems to have taken her under his wing, directing the video above and generally evangelizing her talents to the world — and we’re glad he did, because this album is great. This record reminds us a great deal of a female harp-wielding Leonard Cohen (a comparison that others have also made), which is clearly not a bad thing at all.

St. Helens — Heavy Profession (2009)

Genre: Narco-rock par excellence

Regular readers may have noted us enthusing a great deal over the last few months about Ex-Tropical, the debut album by Lost Animal, which got a US release earlier this year via Hardly Art. Well, this is Lost Animal main man Jarrod Quarrel’s previous project, and it’s just as good — it finds him paired with singer Hannah Brooks, the duo singing, unusually, in the exact same register, not harmonizing so much as creating a de facto double-tracking effect. The adding mood is dark, and the music is like stumbling into the kitchen of your basement apartment after a long, ugly night, only to find that you’ve left the window open and the whole place is freezing cold. It’s not easy listening — but then, the best music never is.

Susan Justin — Forbidden World OST (1982)

Genre: Gloriously cheesy ’80s sci-fi synth action

We mentioned discovering this in Amoeba’s vinyl vault recently, and we went ahead and invested in downloading it — and boy, are we glad we did, because it’s just as cosmically deranged as the on-site previews suggested. The whole vinyl vault project may raise a bunch of ethical and legal questions, but it’s also a place to get hold of albums you genuinely couldn’t get anywhere else, and we’d hate to see it get canned.

The Valerie Project — The Valerie Project (2007)

Genre: Cinematic freak folk

Alternative approaches to folk music were all the rage in the mid-2000s, and while the Devendra Banhart/Joanna Newsom-led freak folk genre got plenty of attention, there were other, similarly excellent artists who flew rather further under the critical radar. So it went with Philadelphian psych folk collective The Valerie Project, whose music remains an under-appreciated pleasure. (Their name, if you’re wondering, refers to the fact that this album was designed to serve as an alternative soundtrack to 1970 Czech surrealist film Valerie and her Week of Wonders. So now you know.)

Various Artists — Can’t Stop It! (2001)

Genre: Antipodean post punk

Music from your correspondent’s home city! The early ’80s were a particularly fertile time in Melbourne — the most famous alumnus of the era is one Nick Cave, but there were a heap of other fascinating post-punk bands, many lasting for only a show or two. This fantastic twopart compilation is an exhaustive record of the era, encompassing both bands whose renown has endured (Primitive Calculators, Ash Wednesday) and others whose charms would otherwise have been lost to time. And where else can you find bands with names like People With Chairs Up Their Noses or The Goat That Went “Om”?

Various Artists – Mandarinen Träume (2010)

Genre: Various East German electronic obscurities

We’ve written a fair bit about 1970s German music in this feature, largely because the volume of genuinely groundbreaking music that came out of that decade in Germany is almost overwhelming. Much of the era’s best-known output, understandably enough, comes from West Germany, which is what makes this compilation so interesting — it focuses on what was happening on the other side of the wall, and the result is a fascinating exploration of the output of a whole bunch of artists of whom we’d otherwise have never heard.

Various Artists — The Music of Cosmos (1980)

Genre: Sagancore!

We’ve been re-watching the wonderful Cosmos of late, and apart from Carl Sagan’s general awesomeness, the best thing about it is the suitably cosmic music, featuring Vangelis (of course) and a whole bunch of dramatic classical music. It can all be found on this soundtrack album, which was originally released on vinyl and re-released as an extended double-CD edition in the 1990s. The two-CD version is insanely hard to find because it was only ever released via Sagan’s website, but we’re sure if you look hard enough you might stumble across it ahem ahem.

Various Artists — That Summer (1979)

Genre: Zeitgest punk

Sure, you probably know all the artists on this record, but do you know the record? We certainly didn’t before several people suggested it to us for this feature — it’s the soundtrack to 1979 UK film That Summer (which was chiefly notable for marking Ray Winstone’s big-screen debut), and its tracklist is a roll-call of the best artists of the time, making it a sort of Generation X version of the Trainspotting soundtrack: Ian Dury, The Boomtown Rats, The Ramones, Elvis Costello, Richard Hell, and plenty more.

White Noise — An Electric Storm (1968)

Genre: God only knows

The fact that An Electric Storm still sounds whacked out today makes you wonder what on earth people must have made of it on its release way back in 1968. The band was founded by American bassist David Vorhaus, and this debut album was notable for featuring the first British synthesizer, a bunch of experimental tape effects, a screaming orgasm, contributions from Delia Derbyshire, and, in the title track, one of the most terrifying pieces of music ever committed to tape.

Zelienople — Give It Up (2009)

Genre: Dreamcore

Like the aforementioned Panoptique Electrical, Zelienople’s music seems to inhabit a space between the conscious and the unconscious, but whereas Panoptique Electrical’s music is designed to aid the transition from one to another, this album’s songs keep you firmly in that space. The album feels like a world all its own — “a place both wonderful and strange,” to quote Agent Cooper.