Music doesn’t have to be smart to be fun, but it doesn’t hurt. Fortunately, Intelligence frontman and sole constant member Lars Finberg, otherwise known as the drummer of Seattle weirdo punk band the A Frames and all-around local scenester, has got some brains on him. For Males, the band’s sixth album and fourth for garage-punk mainstay label In The Red, Finberg pulled together some of his touring pals to record with him, including folks like Beren Ekine Huett, of the fuzz-to-the-max punk group Eat Skull. Combine that with Finberg’s Travis Morrison-esque world weariness and turn down the lo-fi of their previous offerings, and this album starts to sound almost professional. Or smart, even. Almost.
The Intelligence land somewhere between the Make-Up, the Fall and Adam and the Ants on the punk-rock wildness spectrum, with the added frenetic pace of British post-punk band the Au Pairs. These are short bursts of erratic music, with many tracks running less than two minutes and songs as reliant on mechanic snare hits as sloppy, yelping vocals. Take “White Corvette,” for instance. With a title like that you can’t help but think Prince, the Beach Boys, or any other in a slew of pop songs about love and cars. But the chorus — “It’s no fun / No no fun / It’s no fun / When no one looks” — sort of flips the whole thing into a love song sung by people who hate love songs. This track, one of the best on Males, uses a quick-tempo hi-hat, dull casiotone melody out of an Atari game and half-assed spy-theme guitar line to provide a strobing jingle for a car commercial from a parallel world where Wire were more popular than the Beach Boys. They still might be making sweaty garage punk songs, but at this point these guys have been around the block long enough to be fully self-aware of what they’re doing.
Despite the Intelligence being half women, Males is still an apt title for this kind of stuff. It will forever be played to smelly guys in sweaty basements and over-crowded garages. The album begins with a “1, 2, 3, 4” count off and closes with a few seconds of sustained feedback. Listening to the record alone in your room is fine, but it’s really not what this music is meant for. Go to a show. Get drunk and loud with your friends and pretend it isn’t smart any more. That’s where the fun is.