Imitation surfing seems as improbable a concept as an Intelligence album that isn't entirely encrusted in distortion and static, but that's exactly what Fake Surfers offers. While Lars Finberg's music became incrementally less noisy on earlier Intelligence albums, this set of songs takes a big step in that direction -- which comes as something of a shock, given how easily Deuteronomy balanced the Intelligence's abrasive sonics and weird tales with clean(er) production, and how popular similarly noisy bands like No Age and In the Red labelmates the Blank Dogs became in the late 2000s. Of course, saturated sounds are still a key part of the Intelligence's music: "Tower" cloaks clever wordplay in ultra-distorted drums, and "Saint Bartolomeu"'s dual vocals and data-panicking synths hark back to Brainiac's glory days. It's just that Finberg and company (which includes the Lamps' Monty Buckles and Christmas Island's Brian Carver this time around) don't go for the jugular on songs like "Debt & ESP," which would easily fit on Icky Baby or Boredom and Terror with the addition of a few decibels. It would also be easy to read Fake Surfers' subdued sound as a reaction to what Finberg has done before and what his peers are doing -- "Fuck Eat Skull" attempts to start a feud with the likeminded Portland band Eat Skull, but since Beren Ekine Huett plays in both bands, it's likely not a serious beef. However, the Intelligence remains as mysterious as ever, if not more so, on Fake Surfers. Even the most immediate songs aren't exactly direct, and the prevailing mood is sullen boredom: song titles like "The Unessential Cosmic Perspective" and "Thank You God for Fixing the Tape Machine" drip with sarcasm; on "Singles Barge," Finberg sings like he's scrubbing the deck with a sneer; and "South Bay Surfers" could very well be a vintage surf instrumental played at half-speed as Finberg chants "I'm tired of fake surfing/It affects me/And I'm affected" over it. Actually, a lot of the album sounds like fake surf rock, which makes sense considering how much of the Intelligence's brilliantly simple hooks and melodies feel directly descended from rock's primordial days, even when they're under piles of noise. "Universal Babysitter"'s riff is sprightly enough to do the twist to, while the cover of Wounded Lion's tribute to satyrs and centaurs, "Pony People," is so bouncy and appealing that it could almost pass for a slab of early-'60s novelty pop. "Warm Transfers," perhaps the album's catchiest and snarkiest track, turns strummy acoustic guitars, whistling, and feedback into an ironic frolic. While Fake Surfers might not have the immediate impact of Finberg's earlier albums, but it takes his music in some bold directions without losing its smart-alecky, catchy-despite-itself essence.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares