(In the Red; 2009)
By Dom Sinacola | 13 May 2009
For this, the band’s fourth LP, which might seem for many an appropriate debut, the first noise out of Lars Finberg’s mouth—besides a disinterested moan somewhere between post-coital and zombified—is “I’m tired of fake surfing / It affects me / And I’m affected.” It’s a funny confession to make in one’s best laconic cool voice; it’s basically like saying, “This is my laconic cool voice,” temperately and fecklessly, at the head of an album that will, straight through, fake-surf hard. As if surfing were anything but real, always. Suffice it to say, “fake surfing” is Fake Surfers: it’s the cover art to Wavvves but also the agreement with the rest of the human race that no cover should ever look that way again. Fake surfing is feeble, blurry, so unsure of itself the music it’s draped over is even laughing at it—which means the music is essentially laughing at itself, an ugly feeling to hoist through a half-hour already leaden. No, Intelligence are dead-serious about this shit. At the end of “Fuck Eat Skull,” Finberg even apologizes (kinda), not because he’s making a joke, but because Beren Ekine Huett is in both bands and there will be no fucking of oneself during the course of this record. None.
Still, Fake Surfers does come off as a bit of a joke, and a listener can’t be expected to take the music as direly as the band must. That’s mostly because they’re all about mucking around with monstrously catchy, juvenile surf riffs and then suffocating those infant laughs with a tight plastic bag of reverb; warm, gleeful guitar tones are stripped to their menacing essentials and left to bake in rancid West Coast heat. Hard to deny, Intelligence resemble the scenes and scenes’ bands erupting like boils on top of old scars at the temples of our continent unified simply by how enamored they are with the din of their own failure, with their applebum jeans and Richie Hawtin haircuts. Any audience member familiar with what I’m saying must then think: maybe Fake Surfers exists to sober those assholes up, to show them the skeletons in their closet (by “closet” I mean skin, and by “skin” I mean skin to be flayed off), to tell them their vegan cupcakes taste like uncooked rice, and to get me to call them assholes.
But it’s never a truly mean record, just a joyless one that’s a lot of fucking fun to listen to—by which I mean that the pleasure to be had in Fake Surfers is totally one-sided. Whenever a lilting shaker is swapped, nostrils flaring, for some bleating, blanked out drums (“Moody Tower”), or whenever that gives way to a Rock Lobster covered in tripe (“Debt & ESP”) wiped clean by some sensible xylophone and made to look cleaner by the much uglier pigswarm of “St. Bartolomeu,” the impression is immediate—more than that: conflated, instantaneous. Each song is a playing card slapped hurriedly on top of an entirely random deck—and somewhere, when you lose count, the red kings resemble the fours, black ones, and the tens the aces, and an instructional card was left in to pull, at which point you allow the fevered nonsense and bits of lucky detritus to congeal into one single, sexy moment of imbalance. Meanwhile, the dealer’s staring at you with cold, mushroom-wide eyes, simply indifferent, a physical apparatus for the dissemination of shiny and fingerprint-smudged pieces, and the playing card manufacturer has no knowledge or concern for the vagaries of your gambling debts and lustful ways.
It’s that dealer that divides the “us” from Intelligence, that keeps those that make the music and make it one way apart from those that hear it and hear it another. The dealer is Fake Surfers, which, by all means, sounds like it could be the band’s debut, so briskly does it consubstantiate, in both directions, the music at hand. The shambled whistling of “Warm Transfers,” tired and out of step, limned with the wheeze of young, bad lungs, is re-imagined, when the band lets it go, to be a spirited mini-romp; “I Hear Depression,” titled with alienating synaesthesia, bloodies a circus organ to thin pulp, and soon after, for us, that organ becomes our familiar, even innocent, lifeline through the song’s otherwise tawdry lashings. The wheezy whistle is still, to our ears, a whistle, and the big top organ a big top organ, but somewhere in the Berlin Wall of Fake Surfers, the souls of these sounds transform—and meanwhile, at the conclusion of every song, Finberg falls off his stool, exhausted in the recording space, and violently slaps away his partner’s helping hand when she reaches for him. He’s haunted by the drums of “Warm Transfers,” their attack-less, decaying rumble, as if the past of an unknown present lingers; surrounded by all these ghosts, he orders his band to suck it up and continue.
I’m still not sure why this happens, let alone how, though the subjective shell of my review nods, plays along, and allows me to step over. Accepts another hand. I do think that Intelligence, in passing each arm of each song through the cheese-cloth of lo-fi (guh) and through the wrathful cloud of their own—I’ll say it—dumbed-down disdain for what they’re doing, impart a bit of the sadness and drudgery inherent in all this shit rock we keep hearing about. Yes, the corner of that garage is greasy; this is a garage, after all. In turn, “Singles Barg,” which you can check out on my latest podcast, is an absolutely sincere song unable to be accepted sincerely. It’s a shame, but the shame’s all for Intelligence and the entertaining, wacky parts are for us (God, I love the tone on that snare). Is this a comment on the storm of Eat Skulls and Woods and No Ages, Intelligence’s indelible brethren? On the super-cool, clique-y distance these artists create between themselves and their audience, like in high school or like at CMG, despite the “accessibility” of their recording methods? No. But we’ll make it one, we’ll make it many, no strings attached. This is our pleasure, after all, and this is the band’s curse.