The pain started at an Intelligence show, and pretty soon I was wishing for a plate-glass window to put my head through. A tiny toothache had become a major toothache.
The local anesthetic I'd bought at a convenience store wasn't doing the trick, and neither was pooling whiskey around the problem tooth or inflicting pain on other parts of my body—kicking my toe into things, pinching my hand.
I was slathering that tingly goo on the pained parts of my mouth when it occurred to me that Intelligence songs are like chunks of pain slathered in tingly goo. Lars Finberg, the main songwriter, makes oddly pretty songs out of trash—rusty, unpleasant stacks of distortion and reverb and drums shaped into gleaming garage pop. His songs take broken things and fix them. They're like antibiotics. They fight hard.
At least, that's what I was planning to write on Line Out the Monday after the show. Instead, I spent Sunday night screaming into my pillow and Monday morning writhing in an endodontist's chair. She stuck a big needle in my gums and rubberized my mouth and started drilling into the tiniest tooth inside—one of the lower front ones—and then suddenly sat back and widened her eyes and said, "Whoa. Janice, come look at this. He's a gusher. You're a gusher." What was gushing? "Infected pus," she said, slightly redundantly. "It's just flowing and flowing." My tooth was a pus hose.
During my convalescence—eating soft foods, squirting hydrogen peroxide into the hole, getting a temporary filling, more pain buildup, getting the temporary filling taken out and another put in, taking multiple kinds of antibiotics, taking multiple kinds of pain pills, staring into the faces of confused medical professionals—I listened to the Intelligence's latest three records (Crepuscule with Pacman, Fake Surfers, and Males) over and over and over and over and over and over and over. One song on Males, "Estate Sales," goes, "And when I die in my apartment/And I'm dragged out into the street/All the things I saved up for/Are headed for the rummage sale." The song was recorded with a child's $11.99 Casio played into a $12,000 Telefunken microphone. It's the perfect accompaniment to sitting in your apartment, eating geezer food, and thinking about the infection blossoming next to your jawbone and all the crap that's going to be left behind if the infection wins.
Finberg is a morbid, funny fucker, and his gift at transfiguring things goes both ways. He takes jarring, alien stuff and translates it into pop, and he takes pop and transforms it into jarring, alien stuff. One old Intelligence song that appears on Males is "The Universe," in which Finberg talks/shouts about the universe speaking to you and how "it's crazy not to listen," unless it's telling you to cause harm, in which case "I hope that I find you locked up." Then he repeats the words a second time, over an increasingly alarming tune. Turns out these words don't come from a source generally considered alarming. They're something Finberg heard Oprah say on TV once. By repeating her words verbatim and swallowing them into a jittery new context, Finberg makes her sound like an alien—an alien spitting out presumptuous, animalistic, morally self-certain decrees. The song ends in a crashing shower of noise that I like to think of as Finberg putting his own head through his own plate-glass window.
Finberg has been the only consistent member of the band over its seven albums. Considering his on-his-own-ness, and considering the entropy and isolation and pain the songs all mimic musically, maybe the Intelligence is a band about being on the verge of pain and ruin, a band about the always-about-to-fall-apartness of bands. I asked him over e-mail if it's felt lonely being the only permanent member of the Intelligence, and he wrote back, "No more so than being the only permanent member of MY OWN LIFE."
But he's not moody and depressive about the fact that the Intelligence tour all over and sell out venues in Paris and New York and yet don't get the love they deserve here in Seattle—where most of the band lives, where the music seems most at home. Instead, it's just another fucked thing to laugh about.