Monday, July 9, 2012

The Intelligence Unit

This week I’m quite happy to share a couple very underrated records from a Chicago band called Intelligence Unit. They were around in the late 80s and early 90s and featured a wildly original and diverse array of sounds. There is certainly a lot to absorb here – there are elements of goth, synthpop, post punk, experimental, and gypsy folk music. This is one band who cannot be accused of lacking creativity or originality.
The group was a quartet made up of multi-instrumentalists who played guitars, bass, percussion, synths, e-bow, keyboards, and more. They featured an extremely unique singer – he escapes the trappings of emulating vocalists of more established bands and lets his distinguished voice carry many of the songs. Nowhere is this more evident than on the killer darkwave masterpiece Havens Amoung Wastelands, the first song on their debut EP. It starts with an ambient soundscape before the guitars, synths, and punishing drum fills kick in, followed by his forceful vocals pushed up front and center, full of dragged vowels and occasional over-pronunciation. It took me a few listens before I began to really appreciate this style, and now I cannot imagine it sung any other way. I posted it to youtube as well... check it out here: 

Their debut EP continues with more gems – Perimeter sounds somewhat influenced by the Chameleons; The Visionary is instrumental darkwave at its finest, and Venice is basically romantic Venetian gondola music with synths. The only misstep is Cinecila, which sounds a bit like a warmup session by a coffee shop jazz band.
The band’s full length, Foundation, is an even more diverse affair. It starts with a great midtempo darkwave song, Lilith, which reminds me of late 80s/early 90s kindred spirits like Mute Angst Envy or Autumn cathedral or any number of the bands on the Lively Art label. The next song is another generic jazz retread (why?!) but it’s the only misstep on an otherwise solid and original album. Other gems include the slow, somber “Distance”, on which synths and sax kick in during the chorus for a wholly melancholy soundtrack to a midnight drive; “The Black Death” is a surprising melodic turn, with a more focused pop sensibility; “The Prison Ship” is a dark, unstoppable dirge, full of reverb and synths and guitars that fade in and out amoung any number of unknown and mysterious sounds; Reinette and Mirabel in Paris is a complete winner, sounding like a Parisian folk-waltz with layers of synths, twinkling gypsy guitars, and accordions.
I don’t know if the band ever released anything after Foundation. I’ve gleaned that they may have written some songs after the album, so if anyone has anything else from them I would certainly love to hear it. In the meantime, satiate yourselves on these two wonderful releases!