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!!! (the world’s only Google-proof band name actually pronounced as Chk Chk Chk) are real outliers of American independent music. They never really fit into any real scene, they were associated with the rise of New York music at the peak of DFA and LCD Soundsystem but they’re from California and their members live all over the US. Sadly perhaps the most sustained fact about them is that their drummer Jerry Fuchs died tragically in 2009 when he fell down an elevator shaft.
After nearly 20 years as a band, their sixth studio album As If shows just how much they’ve changed since they formed in 1996. The band have been rooted in the punk end of their punk/funk tag. They always sounded like Liquid Liquid making catchy funk punk with a goofy disposition (and humorous song titles like ‘Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass’ and ‘There Are No Fucking Rules, Dude’. They’ve also always come up with a killer track every album or so – ‘Heart Of Hearts’, ‘Must Be The Moon’ and ‘Slyd’.
As If is the first album where !!! embrace disco and house music more prominently than their previous influences making for the dance band’s most dancefloor-friendly album and one that is cohesively their best.
This being !!!, there are still some wild stylistic diversions – the throwaway indie of ‘Every Little Bit Counts’ and to a lesser extent, the mood-jarring ‘Lucy Mongoose’ detract rather than add contrast.
Yet !!! are at the their best when they make bangers and As If is full of them, none more than the glittering disco stomp of ‘Freedom’, a song which transcends their typical formula with gospel-style vocals from Yolanda Harris Dancy and Talitha Manor, sassy synths and attitude and six minutes of instant replayability. The song’s atmosphere is echoed in ‘Til The Money Runs Out’.
‘All U Writers’ with its deep dance bassline and pitched-down vocals is close to Shit Robot in tone. The hypnotic ‘Sick Ass Moon’ makes use of pervading synths and shifting live drums wrapping the song and Nic Offer’s falsetto in minimal dynamics. ‘Bam City’ is a globe-trotting synth-funk strut.
The divisive closing track ‘I Feel So Free (Citation Needed)’ brings that punk spirit and humour to a powerhouse of a synth house jam that’s the closest thing I’ve heard to Oliver $’s ‘Doin’ Ya Thang’ in recent memory. The pitched-down rambling vocals dominate the track’s basic organ line. “It’s quiet around here without a kick drum,” narrates Offer before the humongous kick drum is introduced. The song’s eight minutes brings some guitar licks, backing vocals, synths, percussion references to Grammys, their producer all haphazardly built up and knocked down while the organ shake line remains below.
It’s a song that’s going to slay live and is among !!!’s greatest strengths, their ability to perform this stuff live with physicality and poise. As If is the first time their songs sound like they could slay in a club as well and offers a place for the band to occupy while remaining as idiosyncratic as ever.