7/25/2005

Everybody's acting like I'm fucking crazy or something.

!!! have been around for quite a while now, and though I cared enough when they started to pick up their first EP ("The Dis-ease"/"Funky Branca", on Hopscotch Records), I didn't really follow much of their subsequent career. The first single sounded a lot like what it actually was--the remnants of two bratty teenage hardcore groups from Sacramento (The Yah Mos and The Pope Smashers) attempting to mix their earlier work with a more danceable funk-derived aesthetic. The songs were catchy and fun to listen to, but they were still closer to their chaotic hardcore roots than anything else. A lot has changed in the interim, as I learned when I acquired "Louden Up Now," their most recent full-length, last month. These days, it is the dance-funk sensibility that holds primacy in their sound. However, what separates !!! from countless other dance troupes operating in the music scene today is the fact that !!! avoid becoming reliant on technology to produce their music. Instead of stripping their membership down in order to conform to the industry standard of solitary-genius-with-computer, they've supplemented the standard five-piece rock lineup with horns and an excess of percussion and turned their band into one big floating party. It sounds like one, too; the entire album is a nonstop groove.

But this isn't the kind of shit I usually listen to, at all. So why am I suddenly fascinated with a dance band, and not just any dance band but one that is [gasp] really popular with hipsters?

Believe me, where this development is concerned, I'm just as surprised as anyone. The more I think about it, though, the more I see the logic in it. Though their music might remind the listener of disco at first, upon deeper exploration it's a lot closer to the no wave explorations of James Chance and the Contortions. There is little reliance on programming--in fact, as far as I can tell, there aren't even synthesizers on this album, let alone computer effects. The beat is every bit as monstrous as it is in any dance-oriented music, but with only four of the eight musicians here involved in creating it (and two of those four doubling as the horn section), there needs to be something more to the songs just to keep the rest of the band occupied. Mario Andreoni and Tyler Pope's slashing guitars tend to stick to repeating quickly strummed, staccato chord structures, but the way they intertwine with Justin Van der Volgen's bouncing bass lines creates catchy melodies from minimal building blocks. !!! are doing just as much playing of the spaces between the notes as of the notes themselves.

All of this is interesting enough, but I'd still end up filing this album away after a few listens if it weren't for Nic Offer's vocal work. His fiery, spirited lyrics were one of the most interesting things about The Yah Mos, and though he's grown up a bit and is no longer complaining about fare inspectors and peer pressure, he's still angry with a lot of the bullshit he sees in the world around him. "Bullshit" is an appropriate term, too, because the man has quite the potty mouth. "Pardon My Freedom" has a chorus based around variations on the phrase "Like I give a fuck about that motherfucking shit", and "Hello? Is This Thing On?" ends with over a minute of Offer yelling, "Everybody's acting like I'm fucking crazy or something!" But underneath all the profanity, there are legitimate complaints; "Pardon My Freedom" is actually about the recent trend towards censorship and repression of the arts, while "Shit Schiesse Merde" (the chorus of which is apparently an attempt to offend the sensibilities of French and German people as well as English-speakers) makes derogatory references to the words of George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

I'll admit that there's not much deep thought involved in the lyrics here. I'm sure there are many who will defend the shallowness of the political content here by saying that !!!'s lyrics are slogans shouted over dance music and should be seen as such, and nothing more. However, I think this defense is overly apologetic and misses the point. Complex political lyrics that go into depth and make intelligent points certainly have their place. In fact, they show up quite often in hardcore songs, and work well as a part of that genre. But hardcore is angry and loud, and its performers are often attempting to assert themselves, to make an impact on the world. Hardcore, if I may be permitted a sweeping generalization, is not music for the well-adjusted (I'm well aware of the fact that I'm implicating myself with this statement). Meanwhile, !!! aren't worried about trying to create music that will bring anyone over to their point of view. No right-wingers in the audience are going to be converted after hearing Nic Offer yell "George Bush can suck my fucking dick", but the kids who already agree are going to have a lot of fun singing along with him. That, in the end, is the most important part of all. "Louden Up Now" might be an obvious case of preaching to the choir, but it's also music that makes the choir feel good about getting up and dancing. !!! proclaim their stances and beliefs without shame, and by doing so, remind their listeners that they don't have to prove anything to anyone.

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