I apologize in advance that this post comes too late. You see, there seems to be this contingent of fiends that are obsessed with 80’s post punk synth. Because of this, the first pressing of the Pow! debut album is sold out. If you remember and like the Bay Area Retrograde compilation on Dark Entries that came out a few years ago, then this record is right up your alley. Pow! being from the same place, I bet that they either have that compilation or original pressings of Nominal State, Los Microwaves and Standard of Living. They surely have some Devo, A-Frames and Intelligence records in their collections as well.
Hi-Tech Boom sounds like it was recorded in the 80’s, but it is a commentary on the current state of affairs in the Bay Area. High cost of living and high salaried tech workers pricing everyone out and vanillafying the place. Pow! sound robotic in their outrage. Like everyone these days they are desensitized to the absurdity of reality. They try to hack the mainframe, but the problem is that their are no mainframes anymore. It’s all in the cloud dude. Zombi faced young people walk around staring into their smart phones. These are the same kids that will probably invent Skynet. This world is fucked. Or maybe it isn’t. Pow! exist!
stream: Pow! – Cyber Attack (from Hi-Tech Boom on Castleface)
The punk orders a beer. The slacker, this being Washington, lights up a spliff. Wimps order a pizza, get on the bar, do a big shoe dance and then on their way out knock over the row of Harley’s outside. All is fine and nobody gets their lights punched out because even though they call themselves Wimps their kinda tough in a not so tough kind of way. They’ve also got some street cred having hung out with the Intelligence, Partman Parthorse and Meth Teeth to name just a few who have their backs.
Brand spanking new Seattle record label End of Time also has their backs. The label has just released Wimps debut long player Repeat. It’s full of short sharp shocks and two letters short of Repeater. Wimps songs adhere to the three chords and a cloud of dust rule. They’re raw, immediate, self-deprecating and fun. And who doesn’t need humorous odes to naps, intoxication, bad jobs, and the general banality of life to crank up when you need to forget about your sucky life?
I saw Wimps back in November open for Wax Idols and the Terry Malts. They rocked like they already knew what the hell they were doing even though I think that it was only their first or second show. Wimps are a trio. Rachel Ratner plays guitar, sings and makes cool maps. Matt Nyce plays bass and draws. Dave Ramm plays drums and makes pizzas. Wimps are raw power with nothing in the way. It’s punk rock the way it use to be; short, sharp and loud. Oh yeah, and they’ve got some good songs too, which you don’t have to take my word for any longer since they’ve put up a six song demo for you to download. Wimps play this Friday at Black Lodge with Unnatural Helpers, Spurm and Uzi Rash.
Last week the Intelligence released their sixth album Males on In The Red. Four of the eleven songs show up with shiny new suits on, having been re-recorded and improved from their previous incarnations. So an album with only seven new songs may make Intelligence die-hards wonder has Lars Finberg hit creative quicksand. Hardly. He has a new side project, Puberty that he’s written a stash of songs for, and the new new songs on Males are all top drawer. It’s almost like he has re-written the rules for the Intelligence with the new album. Rule number one: lo-fi is out. This may come as a shock to some. It did me at first, but after having Males on repeat for the last week or so, I’m more shocked by how good it is and how it has surpassed Fake Surfers as my favorite, which I didn’t think was possible.
The old days of Lars recording his songs on blank cassettes and releasing them are gone for now. You will probably hear grumbling about this from some corners, but not this one. Don’t worry, new hi-fi Intelligence still rocks it’s just much cleaner now. Before you could understand about half the words while the instruments bled into each other. Now you can hear Lars almost croon, his dry sense of humor condenses and drips from the speakers. Futuristic computer blips and gurgles fly by, flashy sleek guitar riffs ring throughout, the beats are bigger and the bass nearly rattles your sternum in places.
What exactly was Lars Finberg thinking when the Intelligence went into the studio down in Sacramento to record Males? I wondered the same thing and through the wonders of the internet got in touch with Finberg to see if he would shed some light onto the world of the Intelligence. What follows is Lars running us through each of the songs on Males and then answering some additional questions. It’s essentially the same format he uses for interviewing bands on Terminal Boredom.
One more thing, if you are in or around Seattle this weekend, the Intelligence will be at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard on Friday (3 September) for their record release gig. Australia’s UV Race and Seattle’s Spurm open.
1. Bong Life
The intro is supposed to be the sound of a teenager and his first experience with ‘jazz clover’. the doors of perception have been opened but instead of the sounds of psychedelic sitars and tablas and backwards Hendrix solos the ominous piano chord signifies the bars on the prison of drugs clanking shut.
I’m not on a high horse, I’m under the hooves warning the youth that if your not careful you will be applying for work at 7-11’s well into your thirties.
I do want to add that this idea came after long studio hours and we had tears of laughter streaking our faces. But that doesn’t make it untrue. The mind melting down sound is made with one of Woodhouse’s magic pedals literally made from a speak and spell. I believe we did about 10 takes of this noise through a huge guitar cabinet on 10 not realizing that Beren was trying to sleep before a 5am flight on the other side of the door. Also inspired by the wake of all these “Party” bands. “Lordy Lordy look who’s 40” A. Stonehouse
2. Tuned To Puke
I think this is my favorite song we’ve done. It is about music and criticisim and enthusiasim and disgust. Also partially inspired by a big festival we played as the final show of a tough tour last year where we watched a particularly popular band bomb hard in front of a large crowd and were shocked this band makes a living at this. I AM on my high horse on this one. That’s throwing out the negs but on the flip side the other part of the song is about all that nonsense evaporating when you put on a nice record. I’m talking to the Sic Alps, Wounded Lion, Shannon and the Clams, Pete Drake, Thee Midniters, White Fence, etc.
3. Sailor Itch
A response to our song Sailor Dive (which is a dive where you don’t put your hands over your head and just dive in literally head first) Sailor Itch is like a Fleet Week kind of thing, dressed in white all gooey in the sewer. Second try for this song, there is a failed version from the distillery for Fake Surfers. Also, I tried to cut this one but was vetoed and I”m glad because i think the rhythm section really shines.
4. The Universe
This is a song from our first record but we’ve been playing it for years and I thought it showcased what the band has evolved into.
5. Like Like Like Like Like Like Like
Hank Williams said ‘if a song can’t be written in 20 minutes it ain’t worth writing’, well this one was written in 5. It’s my rebuttal to Susanna pointing out when we first met that I say ‘like’ too much. I took stock of it and realized I sound like a Valley girl but was born and raised in California, it’s not my fault. Anyway, she is from the Louisiana and when she uses the ‘voice search’ feature on her phone whether she says ‘Toys are Us’ or ‘Movie Theaters’ it thinks she says ‘Texas’ (TeecksZass)
6. Estate Sales
My dad will often call me and give me song titles he’d like us to use, they are all good but not necessarily for our band. “Wire Monkey Mama’ is one that comes to mind. He asked me to write one called “Estate Sales’ about all your things ending up in a cheap pile on the street, that seemed like our style. The gurgle keyboard is a $11.99 casio recorded with a $12,000 Telefunken micropohone (it’s locked in a safe at the studio). Woodhouse said those mic’s were made in WWII for the Nazi voices to sound really terrifying in speeches and after the war they were such good mikes Billie Holliday and the like were all singing into them.
7. Mom Or A Parking Lot
I didn’t realize these songs were in a row but it’s for my mom. A thank you for the love and a base. In my last year of high school when we were discovering the 60’s and listening to the Doors and trying to be a 17 year old hippy in Bakersfield, CA in 1992 without the politics but more based on whether you could pull off a headband, there were these scary guys a year younger who went off the deep end with LSD. It’s a true story, one kid came to school on Monday with a giant bandage covering his face and it turned out that the group of them had been trying to overturn a car while tripping. They realized they couldn’t get it all the way over and decided to give up except one didn’t understand and when the car dropped it ripped his nose off. Another time they convinced one of them that he had shit his pants, embarrassed he tried to wander home via a dry riverbed and ended up lost and calling his mom from a Mervyn’s parking lot pay phone for help. Just like Jim Morrison ! Woodhouse plays the vibraphone.
8. White Corvette
In the demo of this song I was just freestyling stuff and rapping about my brother’s white corvette and how cool I thought he was when he worked for Pepsi as a kid. But I went back and turned the lyrics into a love story so the ‘white corvette’ line got cut. But I kept the name on the demo and after we recorded the song no one would let me change it. It is supposed to be ridiculous, we were crying when the really cheesy keyboard line got recorded. None of us could do the hi hat that fast for that long so we mic’d a different crappy casio (same casio as ‘Life Preserver” and “World is a Drag” “Dept. of Nothing”, I like him to have a recurring role) and used the drum machine, then Woodhouse doubled real drum on the top. I’ve never seen “Less Than Zero” but it’s a song for the soundtrack.
9. The Beetles
1. Booger Sugar 2. Weight Loss 3. Flat tire on a Mustache Ride 4. Party’s Over 5. Link Wray and the ‘poke a hole in the speaker technique’. 6. 40 days and nights in the desert. 7. Evaporating into Partnership 8. Screening calls 9. Relationship Rescue 10. Bath Bomb 11. Irma Thomas 12. Domestic Tranquility 13. Psalms of Love 14. Independence Day 15. Sexy Grandpa
10. Chateau Bandit
This song is a tribute to a joke I only know the title of that Calvin Lee Reeder (Icky Baby Bassist) said a lot on our first euro tour so it’s just a little tribute to him and those times. And our Bordeaux friends Buzz, Sophia, the Weakends, and Sideburns Robbie. Another true story, Sideburns lit his pubic hair on fire as a gesture of friendship. We are spelling C-H-A-U-T-O wrong in the chorus.
I mean just the title kind of makes you cringe. It just conjures up such a repulsive image.
We had some time left after we did the basic tracks and I had these 2 song ideas sitting around so at the last second we glued them together Beren made up a beat and we just did it on the first take. We’ve had 2 really crummy guys in the band before this, just really bad examples not only of musicians but just bad, boring, selfish people in general. If I had a nickel for each time I wake to find Beren crunched in a corner on the floor and this smug f*cker spread out and drooling in a double bed. And it’s just kind of raised this theme of the shitty modern man, simplified into the image of the 1,000,000 wet toilet seats you see on tour and the KKK. I wanted the song to explode into the sounds of WWIII but liked Woodhouse’s idea of playing one chord that he turns the level of a “Frost Wave” pedal up.
I love Susanna’s vocal on this and I think it’s cool that after 6 records of mostly doing it myself that to me our finest moment is this nice group effort. BUT DON’T GET ANY IDEAS GUYS.
You seem to have this love-hate relationship with Seattle. I’ve read interviews where you’ve said you’re tired of it and you’re planning on moving. What do you think of Seattle in it’s present state (old Seattle vs. New Seattle, no drinking on stage, musice scene in general, this so-called summer we’re having, politics, anything)? Is the Intelligence leaving Seattle?
The people are just the worst, no one can even look at each other on the sidewalk. It’s so weird. We had a weird red faced R.E.I. old man bike dick spit on our car and call us “motherf*ckers” with my 12 year old in the back seat because he though we honked at him. Susanna’s been called a C*nt in the target parking lot by a lady in a reindeer sweater at Christmas! There is a real pent up aggressive terror that I just find really specific to this region. Our neighbor won’t look in our direction when we’re walking parallel to each other to go in the house. I hate the weather, I hate that the ‘goal’ here is to be cozy in your hole. I hate that I spend every penny I have on all the great restaurants and movie theaters because it’s the only thing to do. The sushi here is great but the bands that get big here are terrible and everyone’s so depressed and never wants to do nothing. ME INCLUDED.
The nightclub stuff is too stupid to even pay attention to. In what way does someone drinking a beer on stage in a place that is 21 and over and is selling beer make any kind of difference. The summer, shit they get shorter each year, and it’s to the point that i hate ’em anyways all these people wizzin’ around, i like ’em bummed out. It’s hard to make our plans to move, they keep getting pushed with tours and working and traveling but our hope is to start scooting to New Orleans after Christmas.
The number of people who have played in the band seems to rival the Fall. How would you rate the current incarnation of the Intelligence against past ones?
Well what kinda jerk would answer ‘ I sure miss Gary, now that guy could PLAY A BASS’ ! But honestly right now is my favorite version. I love playing with Beren, she’s great and we never have to practice. Susanna is the most professional person I’ve ever met, has great taste and she isn’t easy to impress. Touring with them is perfect, though I miss Beren’s scallywag days just for the entertainment value but she’s a blast. I feel set and supported by them and lucky. The Icky Babies was a fun era. Shannon McConnell was a real joy. I do miss Kaanan Tupper but he may come back as a guitarist / auxillary weirdo at some point. I’m very thankful that so many people have helped us out.
I know you are a fan of the Fall. Would you ever consider doing what LA band Darker My Love did for Mark E Smith on the Fall’s Reformation Post TLC and offer up your services to Mark E Smith to be in the Fall for an album? Why/Why Not?
I wouldn’t want to be doomed to the pages of musical history as a footnote for the Fall but how would you not answer that call? I got to hang around him once when we played with them in New York and he is a magnetic person to say the least. I saw some youtube of him playing with Gorillaz and it’s exciting as he steps on the stage. So yes, I’d have to.
The new album Males was recorded with Chris Woodhouse who is also a new addition to the band. How do you know him (A-Frames days?)? How did he get drafted into the band? Why did you want him to produce the album?
A-Frames bonded over one of his bands “Karate Party” in a big way and though they were broken up they got back together on our first tour to play with us in Sacramento. It was number 2 in my big 4 shows:
1. Country Teasers first time over here playing for 15 people for about 3 hours until Ben Wallers was so drunk he couldn’t tune a guitar and was dragged offstage by his band.
3. Love reunion show at EMP – Arthur Lee came out (everyone was worried if he could even perform) and over dead silence and said “…….it’s hot in here” and took off his American Flag w/Fringe leather jacket for about 2 minutes and folded it up, then said ‘no, it’s COLD in here’ and put it back on, stared at the audience for 2 minutes, and said ‘well, i guess we’ll start off with, what i started off with, and started beating the tambourine to start ‘little red book’ and absolutely destroyed for 2 hours.
4. Simian from Silver Apples playing by himself (I had no idea we just went to see Viva La’ American Deathray in New Orleans one night) for about 10 people in a bar that more resembles a living room and playing all the great Silver Apples songs with a table full of oscillators and crazy electronics).
Anyway back to #2 Karate Party was just unhinged that night. Woodhouse’s brother was drunk and flopping around on the floor kicking people in a semi-obnoxious way so Woodhouse signals someone over to his pedals, motions at them to hold down the pedal he’s pointing at (which makes this crazy loud curly loop of guitar noise) , hangs his guitar around a random persons neck, and dives onto his brother emulating his flopping but also kinda kicking his head in in a ‘knock it off idiot’ kinda way. To end the show (during “Pressure”) he dives into the drums taking everything but the hi hat out and storms out. The bass keeps going in this ‘I hate you kinda way and your not getting out of here like that’ way, and the drummer keeps hitting the hi hat, slowly the audience builds the drummer’s kit back together around him piece by piece as he starts rebuilding his drumbeat as the pieces come back to him. Soon the rhythm sounds great again and finally Woodhouse has to come back in (probably because he doesn’t drive) with his shoulders a little slumped like ‘ you dicks, that was the END’ and puts his guitar back on and they KILL an added verse and chorus (Woodhouse also makes sure to destroy ALL of the drums this time). The song “the world is not a drag” is about this actually. So we bonded pretty hard, he did the A Frames records and we fell out of touch for awhile and came back together when Mayyors came up a few times, and talked about doing an Intelligence record, a bit into planning it he asked if we’d replaced our guitarist yet and asked if he could do it so we jumped at the chance. I wanted him to do the album because I am a huge fan of his work, especially what he’s done with the last Oh Sees records, they are just huge sounding. And though I love Mike McHugh so much and love what he did on the last records we need to do something different and I also have to say so much of this record was Larry Hardy from In the Red really pushing for a band record and Woodhouse producing.
Each new Intelligence record seems to sound a little more ‘produced’ (with the exception of Crepuscule) and you seem to have become more collaborative if not with the rest of the band at least with the producer. With Males you’ve even let the rest of the band into the studio. Are you weakening in your old age, or just more open to collaboration?
I’m weakening, I’m lonely. It’s more fun to make something with everybody else now, it’s new. My ears are just tired of the ‘LO-FI’ sound for us, I’m also sick to death of being called that, it’s stupid but nothing gets called mid-fi or hi-fi, such a tired and petty complaint I know. I thought the most interesting thing we could do would be to try to make a big clean record. But really it’s just the most interesting path to go down for me, we can record on dirty blank cassette tapes forever, it’s easy but the challenge of having real bright vocals up front was scary and fun. Also our bass sound is cool with Susanna I wanted the record to have a lot of low end. Beren is a great drummer and we wanted a record with US as a band playing, since the 3 of us have been together a long time now it’s just more fun to have something we make as a group. Plus if it sucks it’s THEIR FAULT TOO.
The last few Intelligence records have introduced me to bands like thee Oh Sees, Christmas Island, Wounded Lion and the Lamps. Are there any special guests or covers you have lined up to introduce to Intelligence fans on Males?
No, not this time. I didn’t want it to be a ‘thing’ having covers on our records, I actually think it’s kinda lame doing a cover on your LP (and I like trying to break our own rules) but the novelty of us doing an Oh Sees song seemed original to me at the time, though maybe it doesn’t make as much sense now that they are more popular than us! I probably would not have done it a second time except for 2 things: In the Red asked us to put our version of “Pony People” on the record and 2. When a song that great comes around you bend your rules. Since we did this one in Sacramento I didn’t have the same level of friends to come out, though Beren really pushed for one of the Ganglians to do the ‘bong’ sound on bong life.
The cover of Males is the first to feature a photo (Not counting the collage on Deuteronomy) of the band. (I noticed you stuck a piece of masking tape over the second guitarist who’s no longer in the band, funny.) What was behind decision of the band on the cover? Who did the album cover? Where was the photo taken?
I did the cover, it’s a photo from Torino, Italy. It’s called Velvet Club and it’s just this great tiny dank dungeon basement that we’ve had some of the funnest shows at. Like you said we’ve never used a band photo before so I thought that’d be cool and the type is this cool 1940’s stamp set I got from the antique store I work at (If you’re in Seattle you should visit, it’s Fruitcocktail Collectibles, it’s a great little store). The tape I just thought would be funny and kind of make fun of the ‘rotating’ lineup, though the idiotic things the guy did under the tape could fill a book. My 2 faves: stealing Crash Normals sunglasses when we stayed with them and selling Beren free water from a club.
A few songs on Males are taken from previous singles and compilations. What was impetus for plucking LikeLikeLike and Beetles and including them on the new album?
“Like…” is kind of similar to the song “Dating Cops” in that it was a song I liked but thought was maybe too stupid for and LP but when we played it live seems to strike a chord and it’s always fun to play so I want it to be recorded good on an album since we play it all the time anyway. Plus Beren plays it better than I do on the single. I don’t want it to be out of print on some B-side I want it to be available but honestly I just picture it from a fan’s perspective I want it to be available for 99cents or on our new record so you can crank it up in the car.
The Beetles is an old song, I did a version for Deuteronomy but it just didn’t sound big enough so I sat on it for a while, I knew I wanted it to have the nylon acoustic in the verses, which was funny because it’s hard for me to play, Woodhouse likes to wake up earlier than me at the studio so I just said ‘here record this and work on it all you want and just wake me up when you’re done’. I threw it on that world’s lousy compilation earlier because I thought it’d be cool to hear a rough version of it first and then a really fancy one.
You said: “I don’t want to have too much stuff out there.” referring to putting too much stuff out at once. What’s too much? Robert pollard? Fresh & Onlys? Thee Oh Sees? Do you feel pressure to always have something new coming out every few months? Has the 24 hour news cycle mentality affected music today?
I’m only talking about us personally, if your inspired and are recording yourself and there are different labels asking for things it’s hard not to be prolific. One thing I don’t think people complaining about this realize is the economics of it for little bands like ours because I think the thinking is this: We’re going on tour, X label offered to put out a 7″, we will get 20% of 500 of these records, which means we’ll make $500 which means we can stay in hotel 5 times for 2 songs, kinda hard to say no. For the record I don’t think F & O do too much or Oh Sees, and their stuff is all good anyways, I love them both. I would never say anything bad about Robert Pollard either, if anything his being prolific is part of his thing. Just for us I want it to be special when a new LP comes out and space them out a little more and have them make an impact or statement against the last one. But we put out 2 LP’s at the same time last year, what do I know?
Hi-fi or lo-fi, you seem torn between them (ie. Surfers vs Pacman). What is your preference and has it changed over the years?
It’s Hi-Fi for now, I want our records to sound good with the windows down! I want it to sound good on a P.A. in a club and DJ’s to be able to play it next to Adam Ant and the Buzzcocks without people involuntarily grinding their molars.
I know you’ve alluded to Jazz being an influence on you in other interviews. Miles Davis advocated a less is more approach while John Coltrane especially towards the end of his career like to fill up every empty space with sound. I noticed on Fake Surfers that the sound kind of opened up a little from the claustrophobic feel of earlier albums. Is that a conscious effort on your part and how much of a jazzhead are you?
I’m happy you can hear that, I wanted Fake Surfers to have a real fidelity arc to it, to start out dingy and droney and gradually let the sunlight and space in. I think what’s happened for me is just learning things about the studio, one real moment for me was recording the song “Deuteronomy” and when your mixing you listen to each track at a time, get it to sound good and add the next one. Out of boredom we were just messing around and listening to the bridge of the song but just playing the bassline and the percussion and laughing it just sounded so much like “Low-Rider” in that McHugh just recorded the bass so nicely but as you add the tracks it just gets buried so I started thinking about letting the instruments kind of take turns in the spotlight so everything’s not fighting for frequencies. Later my buddy Drew (from Puberty) told me that was an early rule in Devo, that nobody was supposed to play at the same time and thinking about that you can see another key in why their records sound so good. As far as Jazz, I like Miles a lot but like Coltrane the best but I like his late 50’s (Traneing In and Lush Life are my favorite records) but I got into jazz through Thelonious Monk so if I had an influence (which feels very pretentious to say) I think it would be him, just that really cool less is more approach, and ‘bad’ notes played in the right way.
The A-Frames recently got back together and released a triple album collecting demos, singles, and the aborted 4th album. Do you have any nostalgia for your days as the drummer for that band (any fleeting desire to play with them again)?
I miss those days as soon as I see those guys, which is pretty frequent, Min fills in for Susanna whenever she’s out of town which is great to play with him again. I owe a big debt to the A-Frames musically and am happy they found a drummer that they like and they are still doing stuff. I love them.
Your other band Puberty which you started with Susanna recently completed a residence that you curated at the Orient Express in Seattle.
– What was the initial idea or reason for starting Puberty?
– What are your future plans for Puberty? More live dates, any records?
Puberty was born from a few things: 1. Wanting to do something new, there was a point when I was in A-Frames/Intellignce/The Dipers/Unnatrual Helpers and it was really fun to be thinking musically from 4 different perspectives. I missed that and I think I just working on the Intelligence was frying my brain.
2. Starting with listening to lots of Tones on Tail I wanted to do something like that bigger and broader and poppier and cleaner than the Intelligence.Then Brad Eberhard from wounded lion played me a Fun Boy 3 record “Fame’. The cover is terrible but it’s a great record. That helped me write the first song and get on a roll. And Susanna playing me U-Roy “Flashing my Whip” made us decide it’d be cool if we just sang and rekindling my love of the Specials made us want a big back up band and to dress nice.
3. Susanna had come up with the “Trainwreck” night and we new we wanted to have a band but couldn’t think of anyone that was perfect for it, so she asked if I could get Puberty together in town which gave me a dead line and context to start working on it.
Then we liked the idea of a residency, maybe I heard Suicide did Max’s Kansas City or something?
4. I’ve been wanting to play with everybody in the band for years, they are some of my favorite people in Seattle and some of the best players in town, it’s funny I just sent them demos and they were all hunched over the boom box figuring it out easily at the first practice, I just get to show up with a microphone and they do all the music, it’s really nice.
I think we’re putting the Trainwreck night on ice for a while or maybe forever, it was great but we wanted to go out on a high note I guess. We are working on a 7″ right now and hope to record an LP sometime this year and we’ll be playing around once and a while in town when someone we love comes touring through, we just want it all to be special, we’re all busy, we’ve all been doing bands for years so our motto is ‘refuse to pay the dues’.
The Intelligence has released a lot of singles, eps’s, compilation tracks over the years, many which are out of print and difficult to find. Have you ever given any thought to putting out something that compiles all of your non-album songs? (If not you wouldn’t happen to have any extra copies of Message Of Love/Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat 7″ lying around you’d like to get rid of?)
I’d like to do one at some point, we’ve talked about it with In the Red just not sure when, I want to reissue Boredom and Terror too since it’s out of print, not sure which is more interesting to do first, maybe the singles comp. But I got a Message of Love for you man.
Do you think it’s easier or more difficult to making a living in the music industry today vs. 10 or 20 years ago?
I can’t really tell yet, I guess I can’t see where it’s more difficult, maybe a buncha turds downloading your record for free but that’s probably a bunch turds that would have probably never heard it anyway. It’s not like anyone just takes a chance at the record store anymore anyways so I’m sure it helps. It’s sure as hell easier to book a tour but there sure are a million bad bands booking easy tours too. As much as I’d like to talk bad about the computer I can’t think of anything to say other than muttering ‘thanks’ under my breath.
Books away, pencils out. Pop quiz time. First question, Puberty is:
A. The House Band for the new monthly Trainwreck dance-debauchery party at the Orient Express.
B. Side project of Intelligence dynamic duo Lars Finberg and Susanna Welbourne.
C. That awkward stage that all humans go through to reach sexual maturation, and that most would like to forget.
D. All of the above.
The answer of course is D, but for purposes here we’re (mostly) interested in A & B. The Intelligence could never be accused of being a slacker band. Last year they released two albums and they have one ready to unleash on us this year already. Besides being prolific in the albums department, they seem to be perpetually on tour. So where do Mr. Finberg and Ms. Welbourne find the time for this new side project? Obviously some people need much less sleep, and don’t have a weakness for goofing off and wasting time surfing the internet like some of us.
Besides Puberty, Finberg and Welbourne have concocted a vehicle so to speak for their new band, a monthly party called Trainwreck that happens in a set of old railway cars from the 40’s that by day goes by the Orient Express, a restaurant where you can eat in the confines of the glorious past. Setting foot in the place is like stepping back into a different time, they are all connected, but not in line like a train, so wondering around in them is kind of like going through a maze. Finding the men’s room and getting back can be an adventure in and of itself. Just having this place as a divey bar you can go to and tie one on, is a good thing, but when you add a dj, a drag queen and Puberty you get something pretty damn cool.
Hosting the night was Kissee Simmons, the drag queen with a New Yawk accent. S/he introduced the band with her 2 pack a day voice, making up new last names for Lars (I think she called him Lars Fishburn and Lars Fishburg) and offered Chex Mix to everyone. The band, and it was an actual band, consisted of Dave Hernandez formerly of the Shins on guitar Curtis James (Old Haunts) on drums, Drew Church (Cops) on bass and Michael Jaworski (Cops) on keyboards. This left Finberg and Welbourne to ham it up and have a blast. It was pretty obvious that both or them were having a good time, they were decked out in all white and wore shades. They shared vocals on every song while the band, all dressed in matching pink tuxedo jackets, held a solid groove throughout. The sound isn’t much of a departure from the Intelligence aside from the shared vocals, but it was a pleasure to finally hear a full band behind an Intelligence project. I was especially into hearing Churche’s nimble playing, which added the backbone that is often absent in an Intelligence gig.
They did an economical set of eight songs, including a cover of Generation X‘s Kleenex. At one point Lars grabbed a giant strobe light that looked like weighed 50 pounds, and turned it on the packed train car. It felt like we were speeding down a mountain side on a set rickety tracks, perilously close to going off the rails. You definitely don’t want to miss the next Trainwreck. Puberty departs on the Orient Express again on March 4th and April 1st. All aboard!
Something that has never happened in my life happened this year. I have never lived anywhere where I can honestly say that my top three favorite records of the year came out of the city in which I reside. It’s been an honor, and a delight to live in Seattle this year because I have had the opportunity to see the Intelligence, BOAT and Erik Blood more times than I can count. Usually, if you’re lucky you might get one chance to see your favorite band come through your town for a gig. I have had that opportunity time after time and have tried to take advantage as many times as possible. Every one of those shows was blast, and as good, if not better than their respective records.
There were so many good records that were put out by bands from the Pacific Northwest that it really was an embarrassment of riches. It was tough narrowing this list down to ten, and any of the the honorable mentions at the end of the list were likely on this list at some point during the year. So thanks Seattle and thanks to all these records for making this year pretty darn amazing.
1. Intelligence – Fake Surfers(In the Red)
Smart guy Lars Finberg must be a tortured soul. He can write as good a song as anybody else, but he likes to sabotage his creations with strangeness. Listening to an Intelligence record, you immediately realize all is not right, and that is exactly what makes this band and this album so great. The record is packed with weird sounds, weird songs and inside jokes. That’s probably not a good way to describe my favorite record of the year, but you’ve got to work a little to enjoy it. The Intelligence don’t make records for people who like the obvious. Fake Surfers has just enough of the obvious to draw you in, but it was the strangeness of it that kept me in. A good example of this is the song Warm Tranfers, which sounds like a drunk Dean Martin singing while tied down a couple leagues somewhere in Lake Union. Besides releasing Fake Surfers, this year we got two albums from the Intelligence. I know dyed in the wool lo-fi purists preferred the other album Crepuscule Avec Pacman, which was essentially Finberg by himself at his claustrophobic best, but I thought the wider, more spacious and thought out Fake Surfers was a huge leap forward for the band.
2. BOAT – Setting the Paces (Magic Marker)
Of BOAT’s three albums Setting the Paces is the funnest. It’s like super-sized BOAT containing the same ingredients of the first two records, but just more of it. Add in better songs and better production and you’ve got busting out of their underachiever cocoon. They’re still singing about seemingly strange things like Giant Centipedes, tractor beams, drinking diet cola and sleeping in pajamas that are too small, but the songs and production are so much improved that the record just pops out of your stereo. The choruses are so big and undeniable, I’ve found myself in the car by myself belting them out. Setting the Paces is BOAT, no longer content with the underachiever moniker, laying all out, going for it, and totally succeeding.
3. Erik Blood – The Way We Live (Self-released)
This was nearly my number one for last year, but since it was not officially released until this year I sat on it. The Way We Live definitely has staying power, it has been in constant rotation around here all year and nothing on it has gotten old. Erik Blood was in the Turn-Ons who seem to be on an indefinite hiatus. He always contributed a song or two to each Turn-Ons album, but nothing that really prepared me for this tour de force. Blood is obviously is a fan of a lot of the shoegaze bands that were all the rage in the early 90’s, but he seems to effortlessly add a touch of soul to his songs that put them on some other plane. The final song on the record does something I have never heard before, combining shoegaze with soul into to something that sounds so natural and right. It’s an amazing song and leaves me with shivers up my spine every time I hear it. When was the last time a record did that to you?
4. Charles Leo Gebhardt IV – Unfaithful (GGNZLA)
Charles Leo Gebhardt plays in the Unnatural Helpers, Idle Times and probably a few other bands I don’t know about. He also has a solo gig and Unfaithful was the first fruits of that endeavor. It’s only five songs but every one of them is so good that he makes an impression in a very short amount of time. Unfaithful is pretty straightforward minimalist, low key guitar pop, but the songs have an antique feel to them in a similar vein of Girls that will make you swear you’ve heard them somewhere before.
5. Tea Cozies – Hot Probs (So Hard)
The Tea Cozies are a Seattle band with UK pop sensibilities. The pop charms of Kenickie, Sleeper and Elastica are not lost on this lot. Hot Probs comes smoking out the gate with songs that will have you checking to see where the heck this record was made. Oh, Erik Blood is producing. Heard of him. For a name that is so cute sounding, the Tea Cozies have attitude in spades and the songs to back it up. These ladies (and one guy) rock!
6. Visqueen – Message to Garcia (Local 638)
Speaking of Girls that rock, Rachel Flotard is pretty much synonymous with the term. She has had her band Visqueen boxed away in bubble wrap for the last few years while she took care of her ailing father. The bubble wrap is off and Visqueen are back with an album that doesn’t take it’s foot off the accelerator. Even the songs with violin, cello and horns rock like nobody’s business. Back in the 70’s girls screamed for Robin Zander and Cheap Trick. Here in Seattle in the 00’s boys are screaming for Rachel Flotard and Visqueen, or at least they should be.
7. Nightgowns – Sing Something (Self-released)
The Nightgowns who were formerly known as the Elephants sound like they could be on Morr, the German label known for dreamy, electronic pop that you can kind of dance too. Sing Something is chock full of songs that have buzzing, humming, blipping and squelching synthesizers over top of them. More importantly it contains some excellent pop songs done in damp, grey, melodramatic, maudlin fashion. Sing Something will keep you on your toes throughout with it’s slightly sad and slightly punchy songs.
8. Purrs – Amused Confused and More Bad News (Self-released)
I like to think of the Purr’s as Seattle’s resident spaced-out cowboys. Their songs sound part gunslinger blues and part spacey guitar jams. The twin effects-laden guitar attack topped off with Jima’s cool disaffected voice make everything the Purrs do sound drop dead cool. Amused Confused and More Bad News was less immediate than their previous outings, revealing it’s charms only after repeated listens, but in the end it was just as worthy.
9. Dutchess & the Duke – Sunset/Sunrise (Hardly Art)
This record was kind of like the Purrs record for me. It wasn’t as immediate as their first album, but after repeated listens the onion started to peel. Where She’s the Dutchess took a punk attitude to 60’s folk and re-formed it into something familiar yet foreign, Sunset/Sunrise continues along that trajectory, but delves deeper, embracing it without irony. The songs are slower, but no less engaging, they just take a little longer to get to know. Many bands are mining the 60’s motherload for inspiration, or just plane ripping it off, but the Dutchess and the Duke have taken that same inspiration, run with it, and turned it into something uniquely their own.
10. Naomi Punk – S/T (Self-Released)
Mysterious band, mysterious record. Full of Oh Sees style riffs, but slowed down which gives them a slightly euphoric feel. This is truly blissed out cave stomp rock and roll. Back in the 60’s every Pacific Northwest garage band that was worth its salt did a version of Louie Louie. I would love to hear Naomi Punk’s version. It would likely be slowed way down, like listening to a 45 at 33 rpm. The vocals would be buried so low in the song that you would barely be able to make out the melody and it would sound so huge that it would make your eardrums burst.
Other Seattle/PNW records that got a lot of my attention this year: Black Whales – Origins | Desolation Wilderness – New Universe | Eat Skull – Wild and Inside | Grand Archives – Keep In Mind Frankenstein | Green Pajamas – Poison In The Russian Room | Hotels – Where Hearts Go Broke | Intelligence – Crepuscule Avec Pacman | Karl Blau – Zebra | Ragedy Anns – ST | Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs | Scraps – ST | Sea Navy – Memory Matches | Spits – IV | Young Fresh Fellows – I Think This Is
I was going to do a list of my favorite records of the 00’s, but as I was getting my list together I started to realize it was kind of boring. Really, how many music blogs do you need to tell you the same thing? That’s when I began thinking about the records that came out over last 10 years that I thought were criminally ignored, or just didn’t seem to get a fair shake. So what I’ve got for you is a list of my most underrated albums of the decade. Every one of these records shoulda been a hit, but because the world is a cruel, cruel place they never were.
Putting this list together was a lot of fun, because it allowed me to make amends for some records that I missed the year they came out. There is not a year that goes by that I don’t discover my favorite album from the previous year in March of the next year. And so it goes….you’ll find a lot albums on this list that never made one of my year end lists from the past ten years. I can assure you though, that everyone of these would make my top 100 albums of the aughts. I just thought focusing on the underdogs would be a little more interesting than seeing some list with the same records as every other list out there. Hope that I have half-succeeded. Oh, and yeah, I know that the decade is officially over at the end of 2010, but I start counting at zero.
This was one of those buys where I was in a record store flipping through CD’s and saw a cover that caught my eye. I remember opening it up and seeing that Dan Treacy of Television Personalities had written the liner notes and thinking, that it’s got to be good. Unheard, I bought this at some overpriced record shop in Paris (I’m so cosmopolitan) and it soon thereafter became my favorite record for months on end. It’s got elements of Mazzy Star and shoegaze, but seems to carve out it’s own space making it kind of unclassifiable and kinda special. They would put out three more albums in the decade, but none came as close to perfection as Lank Haired Girl. To this day, I have no idea which one is Jo and which one is Danny.
It’s just like Mark E Smith to come back from near disaster with an amazing album. After being arrested for assault of his then girlfriend Julia Nagel in New York and having his long time band quit on him Smith returned with an entire new band and the Unutterable. He’d done it before, releasing Extricate after Brix left him, so there is some sort of precedence. It’s amazing how the Fall can still sound vital some 30 years into it, but they do, and this is example number one for the aughts (see also Heads Roll and Country on the Click).
Moose never officially broke up, so I still hold out hope. High Ball Me was their fourth and last album. All three previous records were criminally ignored, so why should this one be any different. The perennial underdogs, Moose made such great albums to the delight of those lucky enough to hear them. High Ball Me is no different except that this one got released not only in the UK but in the US, a first for the band. There was no slide in quality on High Ball Me. Incorporating Nilson, Buckly, Hazlewood and House of Love into an intricate wall of sound that Phil Spector would envy. It’s downright lush!
Before Broadcast became a laptop band, they were actually a real band and The Noise Made By People was the culmination of their autumnal space-age pop. It had an icy cold and unfeeling demeanor like Nico, but there was a glow to it like the Mamas and the Papas and a fiery intensity like Jefferson Airplane. You get the picture, it has a definite 60’s feel to it, but it has it without sounding too derivative. I remember seeing them at the Knitting Factory in LA for their tour to promote the album, and Broadcast as a full band in a live setting so greatly surpassed what they had put down on tape. Trish Keenan’s voice, the retro light show, the noise created by the keyboards, but mostly the guitars filled the room with a hazy shade of winter. Take note chillwave/laptop groups, you need a band, otherwise it’s just watching a guy clicking a mouse.
Some of the sounds on Goldfrapp’s debut album are otherworldly. It’s all strings and computers, but it sounds like it came from outer space. Outer space circa circa 1960, something akin to Peter Thomas’s soundtrack to Raumpatrouille. Alisson Goldfrapp looks like she could have been a Bond girl and has a voice to match. Before making Felt Mountain with Will Gregory, she had appeared on albums by Tricky and Orbital, so this record and its cinematic trip hop didn’t come out of nowhere, but the yodeling kind of did.
You know what I do with this album? I probably shouldn’t say this, but I only listen to the Amy Linton songs. No offense to Wyatt Cusak (he sings 3 of the 14 songs on the album), but I’m a sucker for that girl group sound augmented with a big wall of guitars and that is what Linton specializes in. The Aislers Set are kind of the Rosetta Stone of Slumberland, the linchpin of the label that links the seminal Black Tambourine to the current crop of bands like Lichtenstein, Brilliant Colors, Grass Widow, and Frankie Rose. If there was a song that came out in the year 2000 that is better than the lead off track The Way To Market Station, I have yet to hear it.
Admittedly Happiness from a Distant Star is not the best Animals that Swim album, that honor would got to I was the King, I Really Was the King, but Animals that Swim are so good that their third best album (they only made three) is better than anything someone like Sufijan Stevens could ever, ever come up with in his wildest dreams. Singer Hank Stars is like the UK version of Silver Jews’ Dave Berman. He paints vivid pictures of the down on their luck and downtrodden characters and does it with such an eye for melody and melancholy that you find yourself swept up in stories about Uncle Mackie, aliens and letter writing.
Up until Know By Heart, American Analog Set were background music to me, but with this record they seemed to grow some teeth and develop a pulse. It’s still mellow, but there is a welcome tension to their songs. The band create a hypnotic swirling sound that is so crisp and clean you could eat off of it. Although the playing is at the forefront (the drumming is lovely), front guy Andrew Kenny comes to bat with some really strong pop songs. The Postman is pretty unforgettable and Aaron & Maria is the poppiest thing that AmAnSet have ever laid to tape.
Back in 2001 I wrote that the Tyde answer the question: What if Felt were from Southern California? Darren Rademaker is an obvious fan that Birmingham, UK band, but you can also tell he knows his local history, showing an appreciation of the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. When this record came out in 2001 I was living down in San Diego, the perfect place to hear it. Once was meant for the beach, surfing, getting good and high and eating at Swami’s Natural Food Cafe on a sunny Encinitas day.
Japanese pop alchemist Cornelius is a master of precision and layering on texture after texture onto the frame of a pop song. A song might start with a water drop, become a trickling stream and end up a waterfall. Each part taken by itself seems so basic and simple, but as they layer upon one another the complexity in it all becomes apparent. Cornelius has this uncanny ability to create these engineering marvels and still make them sound vibrant, catchy and exiting. If you ever have the chance to see him live jump at it, you will not regret it. A true master builder at work.
Lesser Matters has not lost a spec of goodness since I first heard it back in 2003. I never get tired of Johan Duncanson’s sleepy singing over top of the band’s over-modulated drums and feedback tinged guitars. I hesitate to call it Swedish shoegaze, but they do seem to worship at the alter of the Mary Chain, albeit with synthesizers and cheap drum machines. Later on in the decade Sophia Copula would put their music into movies and they would become somewhat more well known, but the band still seem to be a secret.
Any one of the A-Frames records could be on this list. The Seattle goth-punks birthed three albums in the early aughts and every single one of them was worthy. Their paranoid, doom-laden, angular take on punk rock comes off as it was made in A Brave New World. Everything is sterile, there is no emotion, and the skies are gray with nuclear fall-0ut. Their second album, intuitively titled 2 has just enough pop juxtaposed with dread to make it a winner. The band would go on to sign with Sub Pop for their third album, before drummer Lars Finberg would leave to concentrate on his other band the Intelligence. The A Frames are what so-Cal punks DI would have been if they lived in the Pacific Northwest deprived of sun, surf and girls. Feel the angst!
Blur. Bleh. Blah. Kind of sums up my opinion of Blur as their career progressed. I just kind of lost interest. Blur guitarist Graham Coxon always seemed like he was the conflicted member of the group, not really embracing their super-stardom, keeping his foot in the lo-fi with his solo albums. After he left the band, his records moved away from the feedback drenched jams to became a lot more structured and pop focused and Happiness in Magazines is easily his best record. He drafted Blur producer Stephen Street to twiddle the knobs and he showed up with his grade A songs. There’s the straightforward pop of Spectacular and Freakin Out, but he delves into the blues on Girl Done Gone and is downright funny on Bottom Bunk. I think with Happiness In Magazines Coxon reaches a level of comfortable with who he is and it shows.
Katerine– Robots Après Tout (2005: Rosebud/Barclay)
When this came out, I called it a freak-show in a jewel case. I stand by those words, but I mean them in the best possible way. Just by glancing at the cover you might get the idea that this is not your normal album. Yeah, Katerine is French, so maybe it was cool to walk around in pink silk turtlenecks and women’s underwear back in 2005 somewhere in France, but I kind of doubt it. Philippe Katerine’s records seemed to be getting stranger and stranger and this is the wacked out amazing culmination. I think I like the really over the top songs the best. The club-y strangeness of Borderline, the disco of 100% VIP and the funky Cornelius-like Qu’Est-Ce Qu’Il A Dit ? No matter what shade of strangeness you gravitate to, you will undoubtedly find it on this record and probably end up dancing to it.
Rough Bunnies – Rough Bunnies Saved My Life (2005: Self-released)
Frida and Anna are the Rough Bunnies. They’ve also been The Flame and Inside Riot, but Rough Bunnies is their favorite band. They’re kind of Riot Grrl, they’re kind of Moldy Peaches, but mostly they’re Swedish punks releasing cd-r’s. The songs are immediate and the Bunnies greatest concern seems to be to get it on tape before they forget it. So everything has a ramshackle, but endearing feel to it. The Bunnies are prolific as they are obscure, popping out CD-r’s like, umm rabbits. They nearly signed to Alan McGee’s Poptones and Fine Arts Showcase did an entire album of Rough Bunnies covers. Where do you start? Rough Bunnies Saved My Life might be their best album, and if you like it there’s a treasure trove waiting for you.
Ahh, the jangling 80’s. You know the saying, they don’t make ’em like they use to. Human Television take it to heart and conjure the ghosts of the Rain Parade, Dumptruck, the Feelies and Let’s Active. They write melancholy sounding songs punctuated by bright chiming and jangling guitars. It’s a tried and true juxtaposition, and Human Television do it so well that they are excused for not bringing something new to the table. Each and every one of these songs will make you shake your head in wonder at how good it is. How good? To paraphrase the album: sunshine on your face, room spinning round your head good.
2000 marked the release of the first Go-Between album in 12 years, Friends of Rachel Worth, and 2005 marked the release of this, the final Go-Betweens album because of Grant McClennan’s sudden death in 2006. On Oceans Apart, McClennan was ever-present with his classic wistful pop songs as always. He always seemed to be able to reel off perfect pop without even trying and Boundary Rider and Finding You are among his best. But, on Oceans Apart it was Robert Forster that put this record on the map as my favorite Go-Betweens album. His frantic opener Here Comes a City, historical reminiscing rampage of Darlinghurst Nights and beautiful Lavender put this Go-Betweens album in the hallowed company of 16 Lovers Lane.
I can’t help but think that if this album was released two or three years later it would have been much bigger. Of course I’m usually wrong about things like this, but singles like Nothing But Green Lights and A Little Word In Your Ear mine similar veins as what James Murphy gets called a genius for. Vek was in his early 20’s when he made We Have Sound, writing and playing everything. It was such a stellar debut, and the future looked so bright the guy was wearing shades. That was 2005, oh Tom where have you disappeared to?
The number one album of 2006, well at least here at the Finest Kiss. Obviously the band were nonplussed about the dubious honor, deciding to break up in early 2007. Verboten Fruchte is probably the German band’s most fleshed out record with lots of keyboards and even strings and horns. Like Love circa Forever Changes they’ve thrown off their garage rock roots and blossomed into a more nuanced and textured way of doing things. All of that fancy stuff can’t mask the garage rock origins of the band, it just shows their restlessness, and wanting to stretching out and trying new things. If you’re like me, this record will have you reaching for your German-English dictionary, so you know what exactly you’re singing along to.
There is one group of people who I know loves this record. Advertisers and marketing dickies have latched onto Below the Branches and won’t let go. You can’t turn on the TV these days without hearing a song from it. Kelley Stoltz can sell other people’s products with his music, but has trouble selling his own records. Below the Branches is chock full of classic pop, one listen and you’ll want to start a marketing company.
Holland – The Paris Hilton Mujahideen (2006: Teenbeat)
Almost coming off like a Guided By Voices record with short songs that are so catchy you can’t believe he only made them a minute and a half long. Shards of guitar crash down on echo-y bass and keyboards as one man band Trevor Kampman croons with an icy disconnectedness. The production is so clear, yet the songs are so jarring and choppy that they literally reach out and grab and shake you. Kampan is jaded, and down about the state of the world. Paris Hilton Mujahideen is good illustration of the world back in 2006. Not much has changed.
BOAT– Songs That You Might Not Like (2006: Magic Marker)
Seattle bands that love power pop and have a sense of humor, may sound like an oxymoron, but BOAT picked up the torch that was passed to them from a rich lineage that includes the Young Fresh Fellows, The President of the United States of America, Harvey Danger and even Mudhoney. Songs That You Might Not Like wasted no time in firing salvo after salvo of funny, sad, heart-on-the-sleeve power pop. How could you not like a bunch of guys that drink too much soda, cruise in minivans, destroy noise rock bands, get called reptile boy, have ninjas sitting on their couch at home, and use skeleton keys? This was their first record, and they would only get better.
At first I was perplexed by Pants Yell! naming their record after the Young Marble Giants singer and not sounding anything like them. Then I thought, I named my blog after a Boo Radleys song and never write about that song or the band. I won’t deny it, Pants Yell! are twee, but it’s twee with melancholy and attitude. They actually sound equal parts Housemartins and Lucksmiths. Singer Andrew Churchman has an instantly memorable voice and this record equals any album from either of those two previously mentioned bands. The only problem with Alison Statton is getting passed the first song More Purple, it’s so damn good you’ll find yourself hitting rewind and never get to the rest of it.
Pelle Carlberg is a clever fellow. He’s got nothing but bad luck, a wonky wheel on his shopping cart, a crap career as a pop singer, and a broken clock. Carlberg got an ace up his sleeve though, his ability to make his mundane life seem so interesting. He’s funny, self-deprecating, has a better command of English than most native speakers, and has a pocket full of pop songs that will make your ears prick up. In a Nutshell was his second solo album after his band Edson broke up and it’s the one where he put all the pieces together to come up with something that people like Morrissey and Billy Bragg have long since stopped making.
One of the great disappointments of 2007 for me was Electrelane. After making what I would argue is their best album they went and quit. No Shouts No Calls was the Brighton, England band at their most melodic and immediate. The production is raw with the drums nice and in your face, they way Albini made the Wedding Present sound on Seamonsters. The songs contain elements of twee-pop and Kraut-rock combining to form melody driven grooves. They can be gentle and understated like on Cut and Run or lay it all out on songs like Tram 21 and To The East. I hold on to the hope that they really meant it when they said that they were going on indefinite hiatus, and not really actually quitting.
Up until Deuteronomy the Intelligence were decidedly lo-fi, but in 2007 the band’s mastermind Lars Finberg decided to turn up the bass and make a record that didn’t sound like the treble button was stuck at 11. There are elements of darkness that his former band the A Frames excelled in, but the genius of Deuternomy is it’s skewed take on pop that he would later take to another level on this year’s Fake Surfers. Intelligence records are like trip into the head of Finberg, and his world is a weird, wild, funny place place. Weird like the Residents, wacked like Brainiac but catchy as Devo.
Jesse Smith’s likely heros include Nick Lowe, Paul Collins, Elvis Costello and Paul Weller. These names certainly command respect, but the style of power pop that they are so well known for is decidedly out of style these days, and the likely reason that this album got no traction when it came out last year. That’s the only reason I can think of because back in the old days when a record like this came out, it was blasting out of dorm rooms and cars everywhere. Nowadays it’s all about headphone music and records that need to be heard blasting at full volume into the open air suffer.
Not to belabor the point, but the new Intelligence album is easily the best record I’ve heard this year. Last night at the Wild Rose the best band in Seattle (well at least my favorite band in Seattle) played their record release gig before setting off for two months in Europe where I can only imagine they are huge stars. They should be huge stars here in their hometown, but as you probably already know the world is not right.
The Wildrose is pretty much a lesbian bar that becomes a DIY venue on random weekend nights. The stage, if you can call it that, is in the front window of the bar that faces Pike and 11th Ave so that people walking by can stop and gaze in through the big windows. Last night I noticed quite a few people stopping and looking quizzically through the window wondering why we were all packed into this makeshift venue watching this unassuming band. If I wasn’t so enthralled with the show, I would have gone out and dragged everyone of those pedestrians into the bar, because the Intelligence were putting on a clinic. They were tight, and tightly wound, piercing and fractured in all the right ways. Before blasting into Universal Babysitter,Lars Finberg, responding to someone’s earlier comment that they sounded like the Ventures quipped, now this one sounds like the Ventures. Along with a lot of other things the Intelligence have a twangy surf sound that is reminiscent of that Tacoma band. Finberg also has this uncanny ability to write songs that are so out there, but seem to constrain themselves to the unwritten rules of the pop song. It’s probably not a formula for becoming huge, but he at least has the undying fandom of like-minded warped-pop nerds like myself.
The band stuck to a tightly choreographed set, that included covers of Thee Oh Sees’ Block of Ice and Wounded Lion’s Pony People. Most of the set highlighted the new album Fake Sufers but they pulled gems like The Universe from their album first Boredom and Terror and Like Like Like, etc. from their Raw Delux 7 inch. They threw in a request for Moon Beebs and then ended with Confidence from Icky Baby which had everyone around me, to my surprise raising their arms and pumping their fists to the air and chanting the chorus. I don’t know if it was the setting or just the plane fact that they’ve got a pack of killer new songs but this was the best Intelligence gig I’ve yet to see.
I’ve got more photos and the set list over at my Flickr. If you’re in Europa, then you have a chance to see these Seattleites in May and June, tour dates at their MySpace. New album number one Fake Surfers is due in May on In the Red. In the meantime, you can get new album number two Crepuscule With Pacman is now out on Born Bad over in La France.
Here ya go, something for the weekend. It’s the March installment of the the Finest Kiss Basementcast. If this is going to become a regular thing, I guess I should get a theme song and some back ground music for the talking parts. A real microphone might be nice too, one of those big foamy ones would be perfect. Maybe I should get some advertisers too. Naah, I kind of like the furnace as my background noise, at least until I sell out.
Obits – Two Headed Coin
France Has the Bomb – Invisible Angle
Coconut Coolouts – The Spinaround
Lime spiders – Just one Solution
Vic Godard – Vertical Integration
Wake the President – Professor
Comet Gain – You Can Hide Your Love Forever
Rakes – Muller’s Ratchet
Intelligence – 16&17
A Frames – Death Train
Dead Mellotron – Dress Rehearsal
Crocodiles – Neon Jesus
Kay Kay & His Weathered Underground – Diggin
Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
Pale Sunday – The White Tambourine
Mayfair Set – Desert Fun
Liechtenstein – Everything’s for Sale
Jane Wiedlin – Cool Places
Smittens – the Interstate
Blue Jungle – I’m a Ninja
Rose Eleanor Dougall – Another Version of a Pop Song
Crystals – Then He Kissed Me
Richard Hawley – Rockabilly Radio
Johnny Kidd and the Pirates – Shakin All Over
Pete & the Pirates – Blood Gets Thin
The Intelligence, Coconut Coolouts and Idle Times at the Sunset | 26 December 2008
The last few weeks the emerald city has been crippled by constant snow. City leaders have considered rechristening Seattle the albino city. Not only has it been a battle to get to work, but a whole bunch of shows have been canceled because of the white stuff as well. Finally it has started to melt away, like the novelty it was met with. So the Sunset was packed last night with people dying for a gig since so many had been canceled in the past week. People were also there because of the killer bill being headlined by Seattle noiseniks the Intelligence. Right now, the one record I’m looking forward to the most in 2009 is the new Intelligence album. After 2006’s quite amazing Deuteronomy, this year’s split 12″ with Thee Oh Sees and their two recent seven inch singles on Platic Idol and April 77 the Intelligence are on a roll.
To say that theIntelligence are big Fall fans might be an understatement. Head Intelligence guy Lars Finberg was previously in the A-Frames who initially called themselves Bend Sinister. The A-Frames started their own label called Dragnet to put out records, and then there’s the fact that the Intelligence have opened for the Fall. They may be influenced by the Fall, but they take things in their own unique direction. The band’s angular sound incorporates early Cabaret Voltaire, Echo and the Bunnymen and Public Image Limited, but shapes these influences into to something that sounds foreign and fresh. They started their set with four or five brand new songs that will likely be showing up on the new record due sometime in the spring. Every single one of the new songs was a warped masterpiece, and only made me more impatient for that new record. They also hit heavily on Deuteronomy including their cover of Thee Oh Sees‘ Block of Ice. At one point, before diving into a Urinals cover Lars incorrectly said that the best songs in their set were all covers. I couldn’t disagree more, the Intelligence are one of the best bands in Seattle right now!
Both the Coconut Coolouts and Idle Times hail from Seattle garages also. The Coconut Coolouts not only sported two drummers, but they also both were stand-up drummers. They had me at two drummers but two standup drummers? It was almost impossible to not like them. The Coconut Coolouts remind me of the Nuggets box set, where there are so many great bands with seminal songs on those cd’s that I had never heard, it’s hard to believe that the bands weren’t bigger than their regional popularity . The Coconut Coolouts will likely be on on a Nuggets comp sometime in the year 2040 and people will be wondering why they had never heard of these guys with classics like Spinaround, Coconut Weekend, Party Jail and Stickup. Apparently they sometimes dress in banana costumes for gigs, no bananas were on stage but they were throwing out lifesavers saying they were acid. No-one believed them and earnestly responded to the band’s suggestion of pelting the lifesavers back at the band. Even without the banana costumes their set was a blast. They also do a mean Skankin Pickles cover. mp3: Coconut Coolouts – (Please Don’t Break Me Out Of) Party Jail (from Party Time Machine)
Idle Times, are pretty new having just put out their first seven inch on Woodsist and have another one due on HoZac early next year. Idle Times are the remnants of the short-lived Tall Birds who put out a couple singles before calling it a day. Their blissed out set was full of hooks obscured by sludgy noise. I was impressed enough to pick up the band’s Woodsist single, hot off the press. Let’s hope Idle Times last a bit longer than Tall Birds.
Here are the remaining West Coast dates for the Intelligence tour:
Dec 29 – luigi’s fun garden, Sacramento
Dec 30 – the redwood, Los Angeles
Dec 31 – show cave, Los Angeles
Jan 1 – bar pink elephant, San Diego
Jan 2 – the hemlock, San Francisco
Jan 3 – the stork club, Oakland