Lars Finberg helped codify the post-punk revival in the defunct, underappreciated A-Frames. Lately he’s kept busy as a member of garage-psych champions Thee Oh Sees. But his main priority over the past few years has been The Intelligence. What began as a home-recording project in 1999 has evolved into a proper band, and it’s kept on evolving to the point where the group’s new full-length, Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me, is a fully collective affair. But like any hive mind, there are pluses and minuses to such a melding, and this time around The Intelligence gets in a bit over its head.
As its name implies, there’s always been a jerky, dorky contortion to the project’s catchy, post-punk rock, a Devo-like devotion to quirky hooks and splintered riffs that never fails to fall somewhere between, neatly enough, A-Frames and Thee Oh Sees. But where 2010’s Males popped and raged with an organic raggedness, Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me cools its heels. “I Like LA” smothers its sarcasm in stuttering loops and cheap drum machines, while “Techno Tuesday” and “Dim Limelights” are acoustic, Syd Barrett-like lullabies that serve more as speed bumps than breathers. Surrounding the naps, however, are plenty of tantrums. “Hippy Provider” is full of spikes and sparks, although its edges are dulled by xylophone and slightly murky production, the latter sapping much of the urgency that made Males so nail-biting.
Finberg’s knack for robotic melody wins the day: “I’m Closed” slashes away at its own rigid melody, even as Finberg’s nasal vocals take on a drowsy deadweight. “Evil Is Easy” is a scratchy sing-along, and “(They Found Me On The Back Of) The Galaxy” imagines the pop-punk offspring of Brian Eno’s “King’s Lead Hat.” But The Intelligence is spread a little too thin throughout, with the Motown-like swoon of “Little Town Flirt” sounding more like a half-assed parody. The album closes with two six-minute tracks—an eternity for The Intelligence—and neither does it justice. “Sunny Backyard” shoots for an arty, Fall-esque garage stomp, but it lands in the weeds; “Fidelity” is another acoustic-based snoozer, one that morphs into a gormless piss-take of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” It’s not enough to seriously brain-damage Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me—but there’s no doubt Finberg could have found something smarter.