Tuesday, 23 April 2013

!!! - THR!!!ER


Chk chk chk, blah blah blah, exclamation point exclamation point exclamation point. However you distinguish the non-alphabetical Californian collective's name (I started by calling them the latter, if you must know), most will agree the sound of !!! is bold, and with intended expression. Over the course of a decade - underneath sleeve artwork depicting their name through flower arrangements, ice sculptures, even pizza of all things - !!! have gladly, excitedly, turned 70s/80s sounds on their heads. Taking influence from disco, funk, even a slab of krautrock rolling around in there somewhere, !!! have continued pushing the boundaries of conventional song-writing; manifesting it in a less-than-conventional means of excision and energy for an age soughed for hooks, melody and rhythm. !!! have created something that will excite as much as it satisfies contemporary models of indie and pop treading electronic territories. So with Thriller, stylized as THR!!!ER, the band's fifth album comes at a time when the wider culture is changing once more, the supposed independent buzz dithering from sight; pop as a foundation learning quickly to adapt, but not necessarily evolve. But of course, coming from a band that spelled out their call for liberty by stating: 'Like I give a fuck/Like I give a shit...suck my fucking dick', this doesn't quite suggest the same manner of conformity.

The first thing however, to come out of this album is the realization that, even after ten years, !!! remain an act striving for idealistic virtues as they are caught amid flavorsome dance-rock fusion. The impedance of catchy guitar hooks leading Even When The Water's Cold in, are but a mere accolade to !!!'s success. Thereafter however, while lead vocalist Nic Offer remains in that same swarve charisma of outpouring his existentialist lyrics, the music keeps to the band's repertoire of shaking things up. String instrumentation nestles in with electronic fumbling. But it's the bass guitars and drums that lead this track through. And in its simplicity, Offer's soothing baritone melds the sounds together in a fairly gestural but, remarkably, youthful flicker of intrigue. Most members are already crossing the days towards the big four-oh, yet this is an album that could easily pass itself as musicians just hitting mid-20's. There are no fraudulent cliché's though; none that are blatantly conspicuous. The band's use of such simple instrumentation is what maintains the groove and bustled flow of the music. Get That Rhythm Right is where !!! truly divulge in their part-disco, part-funk influences of previous. While it reminds me fondly of Matthew Dear's release last year - vocals certainly measuring in that same soulful cavernous sweep of baritone levels - !!!'s mind-set clearly isn't one of disco-friendly re-imagining. It's more kaleidoscopic; perplexingly vigilant in emphasizing the instrumentation - the thumping 4/4 drumbeat, the swirling bass lines, the mellow piano, even the pulsing jazz pieces here and there - while making clear the sounds are of their own geographic. Like walking into a kitchen/bathroom show-room as such, you see individual elements, whereby you can see them working to other sub-genres, and yet their alignment and their progression as a completed whole, makes as much (if not more) sense because of it.

It's perhaps their past experience with snipping at sounds in sequentially-tangible scisscored patterns - sampling and then repeating over - that comes across well on an album such as this. Where their sound incorporates the repetitious tiling of disco or of general dance music, !!! present these snapshots of in-the-moment music as more than just a tool. One Girl / One Boy is afresh with life and spirit, backed up by its own dignity and even emotion of its actual state. The guitars are a lot more livelier and colourful - synths provide both a rhythmic pacing and an interesting bass texture from underneath. But it's the vocal duet of here that truly stands out as the underlining element on this track. There's a shift I'm hearing perhaps to late 90's/early 00's european dance music - amid all the sun, sea and lazy days by the beach - and that's only because the choral hooks succeed in what the lyrical themes are trying to present. This personal/emotive balance of contending to enjoyment but perhaps not over-stepping the mark is the song's most strongest, and ambitious, component. But even then, as bold and as confident Offer projects himself, the music matches him in its fresh vibrancy of tone. Fine Fine Fine from an initial stand-point comes across rather puzzling in its placement on the album. Sequentially there's some slight momentum and atmospheric immersion lost in how unclear the track's motifs are. There are some densely-layered instrumentation in parts; there are lyrics that come off cautiously secluded, hushed even; and in others there's a tendered return to that summer-vibe soaking of the sun in the guitar textures and wash of synthesizer tones. But amidst all this, there's no real connection or strong-enough principle in delivering these ideas into concrete, progressive form.

Progression is what !!! have been good at though. So while it may come as a surprise to fans that the longest track on this album is only five-and-a-half minutes - when before the band were used to dishing out ten minute shape-shifting, Rubix cubes of sound layering - that's not necessarily left the band with any severe handicap weighing them down like a lead balloon. If anything, it's given them the perfect opportunity to explore the less unconventional stature of song-writing they've been used to, and focus more on the dance-pop measure their music has run numerous parallels with. Slyd could be the band's most lavish, most polished electronic-built track yet, and thus it could lend itself to taking a gestural nod to their long-time label's [Warp] eventual influence on their ideas along with a few others. Everything from the deep percussive 4/4 beats to the fantastical flutter of vocal mutterings and casual distractions, fans new and old can find both the band and the genre coming alive here. But even when the electronics don't necessarily play the crucial role, !!!'s focus on vocal-instrument balance plays a crucial role in the band's appeal for lyricism. Californiyeah works almost like an dialogue between each. Yet at the same time in the band's semiotic back-and-forth between lyrics and beats, it doesn't lose any tension or atmosphere. It doesn't build on what's come before it true, but the multiple personnel illusion in Offer's vocal deliverance does give the overwhelming party-pumping flow a much more crowd-filling scale.

The duality of personas too often comes into play where the music is concerned. What happens on a track like Careful could easily be mistaken for this very same hesitance and misunderstanding with what/where it is the song is leading through towards. Instead, however, the swatch of synthesizer beats and these rather dusty, withdrawn guitar chords cast the song in an even greater, and better, perspective. While the sounds do stand as contrasting in position and of verbal prose, the pace and rhythm is what holds the music together and, as a result, gives the music a sort of baron but intriguing geographic. The way the band shift texturally between memory-inducing distanced guitars and gentler, present-state strums likewise, provides an interesting scope to the established background of the piece. More-so, the electronics themselves provide an equal share of low-trodden tone as much as they give off a sort of distant journeying. But again, the follow-on - ender Station (Meet Me At The) - ends up deflating more than it tries to raise in depth. Drums are immediately more intense and intensely-composed, but the production choices certainly don't feel as carefully crafted or decided-upon with how it seemingly overrides and overlaps most other layers. Even Offer himself comes across hindered. And while I can see that the band have gone to end their album more climatically with perhaps a low-fidelity or garage rock mesh on their deliverance, the drop in audible clarity doesn't exactly help the cause as much as it, by-in-large, drowns it in said feedback and relay.

As I've explained, those looking to THR!!!ER in the same way their earlier albums worked with song-writing may not be the best choice in approaching this album. !!! on their fifth LP explore more compact, more refined, more solely conceptualized themes regarding individualism and perhaps the experiences surrounding it. But the band project this with a sense of confidence, and more importantly, a hunger for hooks and surrounding composition. The lyrical swing between the personal and the emotive too gives Offer's varying vocal registers an opportunity to let themselves be known. It's not as experimental or as excessive in unloading ideas as the front-man has presented on previous albums, but by stripping back the lengths and finalizing their themes, !!! have crafted an album equal in both its enjoying of soaking-in the dance-pop euphoria, as well as the disco and funk charisma Offer is clearly poised to explore. The band's overall confidence is as appealing as the hooks they emphasize, and the rhythms they dictate unto their instruments. While this may not be objectively an electronic album, it shows enough glittered fancy to suggest it's more-than-welcome into such a scene. More importantly, above the synthesizers and beyond the time signatures, !!! measure themselves by their guitars, their drums and Offer's voice to profess humanity above all else. Musicians composing music, people living people lives...and as we clearly see, relishing every moment of it.
~Jordan

8.0

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