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The Intelligence - Males

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Artist: The Intelligence

Album: Males

Label: In the Red

Review date: Sep. 29, 2010

The song “White Corvette” from The Intelligence’s sixth full-length begins as a low-end buzz, about 10 seconds in length. Longtime fans should enjoy it while it lasts, because it’s the only distortion on the track. The rest is airy, melodic and precise, The Intelligence’s characteristic jittery aggression set in Hemingway’s “clean, well-lighted place.” Not that there’s any give-up in intensity. The band’s scrambling post-punk guitars, its straight-up, dry-as-a-bone drums, its laconically abstract verses are all here, just viewed through an unusually clear lens.

Not all of Males is as lucid as “White Corvette,” but the album, as a whole, is defiantly cleanly produced. Never mind that the first line of The Intelligence’s wiki reads: “The Intelligence is a lo-fi post-punk rock band from Seattle.” That was then. This is now. The Intelligence is surprisingly hi-fi these days, if not up to Steely Dan levels of fussiness at least well out of the Blank Dogs/Wavves/Vivian Girls fug.

Males is also the first Intelligence record not played and sung entirely by Lars Finberg, the A-Frames drummer who founded the band in 1999. For this album, he brought in his touring band — Susanna Welbourne on keyboards, Beren Ekine-Huett (ex of Eat Skull) on drums and FM Knives’ Chris Woodhouse on guitar. Welbourne even sings back-up a little on the title track, lending an unexpected boy-girl lift to Finberg’s barked obscurities. As the keyboard player, Welbourne also contributes some of the disc’s new-wave touches, the bubbly electronic frills of “Estate Sales," the unexpectedly bright synths in “Born to Puke.”

This is, perhaps, Finberg’s pop album, though The Intelligence’s boxy belligerence is less tamed than civilized. Brief, metronomically repetitive guitar riffs still dominate, often paired in sing-songy couplets that seem to swing first one way, then back again. Drums remain hard and unmelodic, heavy on snares, easy on the cymbals. And though Finberg experiments with melody, his range is still narrow. He’s fairly compelling, though, even in monotone, especially when spitting out strings of “no no no no”s (“Bong Life”) or “like like like like”s (“Like Like Like Like Like Like Like”). And finally, there’s very little syncopation in these songs. Everything seems to land hard on the fours. There’s a post-punk simplicity — a purity even — that reminds you of The Fall.

The main difference is that you can hear everything distinctly. You can even hear between the things you’re listening to — for instance, the infinitesimal hitch in “The Universe” that separates the taunt of the guitar riff and the answering clatter of drums. There’s a clarity and precision to this album that’s very different from the cavernous clamor of Deuteronomy or even the slightly better behaved Fake Surfers. And that’s a good thing, because it shows off the songs better, which are as acerbic and bile-filled and manic as the old ones. “Like Like Like Like Like Like Like” is a spittle-crusted rant through suburban California angst, while “Estate Sales” ponders materialism from a sidewalk jumble table (“When I die, all the things I saved up for, are headed for the rummage sale”). “White Corvette,” the disc’s highlight, sounds all the better for having the grime scraped off. Its tangled Orange Juice-ish thickets of guitar, are no less tense, just shinier and easier to follow.

You always wonder, listening to deliberately lo-fi albums, whether the fuzz is there to cover up weaknesses, and what these songs would sound like if you could actually hear them. In The Intelligence’s case, they sound pretty damned good. I’m just not sure that would hold true for everyone.

By Jennifer Kelly

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