In a band as inherently based on weirdness as is the A Frames, your drummer is the only thing that can keep the whole thing sane. Lars Finberg may have arguably been the most talented member of the A Frames, which started to depend on him less by the time the A Frames made it to Sub Pop and egos prevailed. Perhaps that’s why Finberg’s solo project, the Intelligence, has been consistently more interesting, unique, and ultimately better artistically than the A Frames’ work. Without the need for of national popularity (or even national subculture popularity), Finberg has been able to take off in ways his previous band has not.
After the exceptional, underrated Deuteronomy, the Intelligence has come out with Fake Surfers, an album that uses pop tropes in the sense that it features surf rock, vocal harmonies, and something resembling verse-chorus-verse song structures. Of course, to call Fake Surfers pop would be ludicrous; it’s musically and spiritually more in line with the Fall, Pere Ubu, and Jandek. Though it is comparable in sound to Deerhunter and is on the same label as the work of Vivian Girls and the Black Lips, Fake Surfers is work of pure outsider art, even in an era when being an outsider is all but impossible in music. Animal Collective has been compared to Pet Sounds so often that it’s easy to forget just how far the band’s music is from pop mainstream. Finburg takes the same tools of the trade — fractured use of melodies, a proclivity toward the strange, and dense low-budget production — and takes them to their anarchic extremes. All of this makes him a more interesting and thoughtful underground musician, even if he’s less tunesy in the process.
It’s difficult to imagine how Sonic Youth and the Fall ever became even close to mainstream; it was probably more a matter of being prolific, persistent, and able evolve while still sticking with their strengths. With four full albums in the last five years and 13 releases in the past 10 years, the Intelligence has all the indications of following the same path, even without the same endpoint in sight. Finberg probably doesn’t want anything more than to be a respected outsider, but it’s also clear he knows the best way to get there. In making an album that could be called his most accessible yet without any sense of context, Finberg gave the opening title track a potent thesis statement “I’m tired of fake surfers/ It effects me/ And the evil I detect it.”
What defines pop has chaged dramatically over the past decade. It’s become commonplace to complain about indie having become a genre rather than an ethic, even if those problems haven’t been resolved. Finberg’s music is indie rock both in terms attitude and genre. It’s a start.