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The Intelligence - Fake Surfers / Crepuscule with Pacman

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Artist: The Intelligence

Album: Fake Surfers / Crepuscule with Pacman

Label: In the Red / Born Bad

Review date: Jun. 4, 2009

The Intelligence has been the outlet of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lars Finberg (formerly of the A-Frames) for a number of years now, one in which he’s gradually traced a path away from the A-Frames highly conceptualized dread into a rock-based form of malaise all his own. With the help of a constantly rotating lineup, the band has cranked out a surprising number of singles and albums thus far, each one further refining what’s become a singular approach to post-punk and garage rock in an arena that’s been so overstuffed it’s almost impossible to stand. Now, having developed his style almost to the point of formula, Finberg presents two new Intelligence discs that introduce new ripples in the band’s output.

Deuteronomy was an obvious apex to the Intelligence’s initial arc. Carved out alongside the A-Frames at first, the band’s earliest singles and LPs tested a familiar form over and over again as Finberg figured out ways to make it work for him. By the time of 2007s Deuteronomy, he arguably had – and yet, while that album’s mix of the Fall’s bludgeoning misanthropy and the Cramps’ smuggled surf and rockabilly moves crested in a brand new, shiny post-punk vehicle, the thrill of discovery that had accompanied the band’s material to that point was noticeably absent.

Much of Fake Surfers, the first of a pair of new full-length releases this year from the Intelligence, plays as if fully aware that Deuteronomy presented an endgame scenario as far as the band’s development went. From the opening salvos of “South Bay Surfers” and “Tower,” this does indeed sound like a different Intelligence. Gone is all the nervous tension that crisscrossed most of Finberg’s twitchy, dystopian vignettes, replaced instead with carefully plotted fuzz and a general hazy ambience that suggests calculated late-1960s ennui more than anything else. Overall, that’s a really good thing, especially when accompanied with the band’s seemingly newfound ability to ply their songs with unexpected twists and subtle new details.

Keeping with the newfound experimentation, “Warm Transfers” pings its drum tracks back and forth across the channels, accompanying a loping acoustic strum that only manages to sound at home when it’s paired with an unexpected whistling solo. Likewise, “Saint Bartolomeu” begins with the familiar – an urgent bassline, a simple drum pattern – only to pull it all apart gradually for a couple of minutes, adding the swoosh and hum and electronics in the background that threaten to overtake the whole track. Eventually, though, a false fade comes through, until the track comes back with doubled drums that pound hard.

While the band still flirts with the post-punk approach they honed throughout their previous albums, the best moments here are indebted to pure pop as much as anything else, be it in the crash and burn sound of “Fuck Eat Skull” (no malice there, either, even with the fact that the Intelligence’s new drummer did some time in Eat Skull), or the British Invasion stylings of “Thank You God for Fixing the Tape Machine.” And even when the songs fail here (or fall back on well-worn ground), there’s an overall attention to detail that makes Fake Surfers at least interesting when it’s not immediately enticing.

If Fake Surfers approach to reinvention sought to tap, at least partially, a 1960s zeitgeist, then Crepuscule with Pacman, another new full-length on French label Born Bad, takes a less obvious route. More compact and noisy than the In the Red LP, these 12 tracks are more immediately grimy and dark, at times sounding a half-step away (structurally and thematically) from the tracks on their other new album. Though there’s no real slouch in the bunch here, only tracks like “Horse Glue,” with its tinkling piano, “Crushed Up” and it’s quasi-skanking, and the easy strum of “La Brea Tar Pits” manage to convince anyone that band isn’t simply going through the motions (although the furious blast of opener “My Ears Are Dust” is pretty great as well).

All in all, Fake Surfers is the more relevant release of the pair, although both go a ways toward reinventing the Intelligence five albums into their discography. The transition is successful more often than not.

By Michael Crumsho

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