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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Intelligence: Males

"Like Like Like Like Like Like Like"

It’s always fascinating to watch a band rise above all expectations and crank out what is quite possibly the best record of their career, especially when no one was looking. That's not meant to sell Seattle foursome the Intelligence short. After all 2007's Deuteronomy, and '09s Fake Surfers are fine albums. But they established a routine of noisy, new wave and damaged sci-fi and art-punk parameters. Their approach to cyclical, pop mechanics and focused melody was strong enough to reveal and define the group's personality — albeit shrouded in noisy production wrapped around vague, narrative puzzle pieces. But in the process the group's strengths and limitations were apparent, or so it seemed.

Males sheds the beautifully grainy textures to create a bare-bones sound that's a whole lot cleaner than the Intelligence's past, but is no less menacing.

The grinding power chords that breath fire into “Bong Life” whiz by recalling the Dead Kennedys’ “Short Songs” from Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death. Everything about the song feels familiar and invigorating on a subconscious level.

If you spent any time on a skateboard as a teenager you have reacted to these same tones. Here the Intelligence mines them to a Pavlovian response. The song grabs the wide-eyed skater kid living in your psyche by the throat and shakes him back to life.

From there the album barrels forward in a series of swift, cyclical hooks and melodies that build in every song. “Tuned to Puke” and “Like Like Like Like Like Like Like” bare the mark of a band working as a team, rather than holding down Lars Finberg’s jittery inventions, and it reveals a focused side of the group. The A-side of Males is the Intelligence’s crowning achievement to date. This is the sound that Lars and Co. have been striving to reach all along. These songs stick with you and from now on I can never click "Like" on anyone's Facebook page without hearing "Like Like Like Like Like Like Like" in my head. "Estate Sale" makes me see my think about my record collecting habits in increasingly nihilistic ways.

The B-side doesn’t pull any surprise punches. "White Corvette" and "Chateau Bandit" maintain an even keel while "the Beetles" is a hauntingly familiar song but never reveals an easy comparison to anything else.

"Males" brings the album to a close with a sense of relief that ebbs into a solid, drumming mass by the end of the song. The pacing of the album gives these songs a sense of depth as well. Males unfolds sort of like an Alfred Hitchcock film. What made those so great was that Hitchcock understood psychology, and he understood that the most jarring elements of a story unfold off screen, in the viewer's mind. The Intelligence understands this as well, and by stripping so much away from their songs the group stirs up the same kind of tension, and it's thrilling to the end.

(In The Red Records)

The Intelligence plays The Earl with Balkans and Skin Jobs. Wed. Nov. 3. $8. 8:30 p.m.

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