In the early ’00s, hipster dance-punk mania was in full swing in Brooklyn. Fun times, they were: Sweaty tatooed flesh thrusting spastically to jacked-up Talking Heads grooves. These days, there’s a new generation of hips and ink, but sophisticated bass and beats have largely taken the place of scrappy high-end grooves. What was once rock’s heady adaptation of dance music has blossomed into a full-blown embrace of ass culture.
So, for those either nostalgic or fiending for a treble-y dance party, !!! returns with a throwback. The ensemble’s fourth album, Strange Weather, Isn’t It?, remains true to the loose, long-haired, white-boy funk the band was first known for. The move is understandable: The accidental death of drummer Jerry Fuchs and the departure of central members Justin Van Der Volgen and Tyler Pope has forced the band to regroup in every sense. The remaining members of !!! make sure to thrust their mojo forward from the jump as on the album opener and lead single “AM/FM.” A guitar jerkily throbs over a strutting beat for nearly a minute before breaking the tension with lead singer Nic Offer’s voice. Throughout the record jangly guitars abound mindlessly while carefully picked bass lines and subtle beat accents are kept in the background. “The Most Certain Sure” steps to the beat of a Spinners-like riff, while “Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass” balances a sliding bass lick with scratching guitars. While the band’s signature, sexy rhythm arrangements still offer low-end delights, there are enough hi-hat and guitar shuffles in the upper register to push this record’s fruits through even the shittiest, bass-deficient speakers.
Alongside these pastime-paradise elements are the album’s transitional experiments. Past collaborator and vocalist Shannon Funchess (Light Asylum) takes a more prominent role, particularly on the hooks and bridges of several tracks. On the spare yet shimmying “Steady As The Sidewalk Cracks,” Funchess, who often sings with the dramatic heft of Grace Jones, keeps her contributions relatively airy in order to complement instead of overpower Offer’s low deliveries.
Offer also speaks of the record as being the group’s “Berlin record” in the album’s pre-release materials. “Everyone’s got a Berlin record in them and I guess we just wanted to see what ours would sound like,” he says “with tongue partially in cheek.” He goes on to talk of wanting Brian Eno to produce the record and the group’s globetrotting recording sessions in Berlin, New York and Sacramento. While the frequent use of echo and the isolation of each instrument lend the record a spare quality, Strange Weather, Isn’t It? is hardly akin to Bowie and Eno’s emotionally stark Berlin Trilogy. Instead, the album sounds like a band trying to regain its footing by returning to its fundamentals. At their best, as on the aforementioned “Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass,” they sound confident in their ability to work a groove to the right point of climax. At worst, they sound lost, like on “Jump Back,” a cut with a mercurial guitar line and zombie beat that sounds like underwater Lady GaGa. Can’t hardly knock the band, considering all of its recent upheaval. But here’s to new directions on their next record.