Wow. Wow. Wow. This is really the only way to describe my feelings upon hearing the new album from !!!, and will now forever be my personal three-syllable moniker for the band that usually goes by ChkChkChk. Longtime fans of the collective formerly from Sacramento know just how infectiously fun their brand of funk and dance music can be, including myself, who was initiated with their first single from Touch & Go, the epic three-part odyssey of “Me & Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard (A True Story).” Their full-length follow-up, Louden Up Now, ended up on many year-end lists of favorite albums from 2004. Since then, we’ve been treated to merely two tracks, albeit good ones, from !!!, and we’ve all been hungry for more. Luckily for us, the time between projects, in listening to Myth Takes, has been mightily well spent. It would have been one thing entirely for !!! to come back strong with another funk-infused album of dance tracks (and some of them definitely find that niche nicely), but instead they’ve raised the bar once again, creating an album that rocks as hard as it grooves.
The opening title track is the album’s immediate example of the musical hydra, combining what might be considered disparate elements into one cohesive formula. Bassist Justin Vandervolgen sets the beat with a hypnotic loping low end, while keyboards emit an eerie echoing screech and vocalist Nic Offer purrs his way over surf guitar lines with several “Sha Sha Shadoobies.” Offer follows that line with, “sometimes it’s really just like the movies.” Yeah, if that movie has Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” randomly walking into One-Eyed Jacks to have a tryst with Laura Palmer. It’s a heady mix and a great start to a surprising album. “All My Heroes are Weirdos” follows, and reminds me of another funk band’s step into greatness. Remember back when the Chili Peppers were sort of a throwaway surf and skate punk band with somewhat silly songs like “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes?” Not that I’m comparing !!! to the Peppers in many aspects, but Myth Takes somewhat reminds me of how Kiedis, Flea and company joined up with recent Grammy winning Producer of the Year Rick Rubin to create BloodSugarSexMagik, a great leap forward for that band in style and substance. The jagged guitars, yelpy lyrics and breakneck drums find !!! in a similar place, where rock, funk and art combine.
“Must Be the Moon” represents Brooklyn in a number of different ways. For one, there’s a feel of old school block party hip-hop, thanks mostly to some keyboard blips and Offer’s Sugar Hill-like delivery. The song’s lyrical substance also plays a part, describing party nights in their adopted hometown. It would fit perfectly on a New York compilation of dance tracks including stuff by the Rapture and LCD Soundsystem. “Heart of Hearts” is equally as danceable and infectious, complete with soulful shared vocals that recall the glamorous days of disco, albeit this time with more dangerous edges. “Sweet Life” is the perfect example of the step-up from !!!’s previous work. At once psychedelic, poppy and spacey, while mixing in a little bit of world music and P-Funk, Offer sings a rhyme scheme of a chorus, literally, with “A, A, B, B, C-C-D-D, C-C-D-D.” With “Yadnus,” which embarrassingly took me a while to realize was Sunday spelled backwards, !!! get their T. Rex on. The only things missing from this glam breakthrough are lyrics about car parts. “Bend Over Beethoven” has the guitar lines in close comparison with the Edge, which is until the very Peppers-like chorus.
“Break in Case of Anything” channels both George Clinton and Jay-Z with laid back funk and female backup hip-hop singers in equal measure. Psychedelic guitars jump into the mix at the halfway point, which might leave some fans scratching their heads, while others rejoice at the unlikely mix. Horns even come in, which will remind some of Oingo Boingo at their height, both adding confusion to the blend, and making it that much more exciting. The real highlight for me was “Infinifold,” however, the last track on the album. Although it was the ultimate song, it was the first I had heard from the record thanks to a shuffle of songs from my iPod. The song immediately captivated me with its spare piano and juxtaposition of deep intimate vocals and sweet falsetto. I would have never guessed in a million years that I had been listening to !!!. A lot of die-hard fans and even critics will probably heap scorn upon this song for being a drastic departure from their usual, but that’s exactly what makes this track so memorable and impacting. The lyrics revolve around the questions and reactions to a failed relationship, and having just ended one myself, I couldn’t help but relate and have the cascading music at the close of the song simply wash over me. It is one of those songs that will have a life outside of its home album, ending up on mixes and iPods for sure.
They say good things, like celebrity deaths, come in threes. This is certainly true for !!!, the three-symbol, three-syllable collective of artists who have played their parts in bringing the dance back to the independent scene. This is the band’s third full-length album, and, if you believe anything about numerical power, they had to bring their a-game. Not only did they bring it, they knocked it out of the box, finding levels of maturity, complexity and brilliance not seen in the past. Even the album’s cover gets in on the act, finding hordes of animals in threes (even a trio of humans) making their way to three arks. There’s a sense of the post-apocalyptic here, with fireworks / bombs going off in the background and discarded / junked vehicles off to the side, fires blazing and some of the animals engaging in orgiastic pleasure, and really, what other band would you want soundtracking a celebration of the end of time? I can only hope that there isn’t some kind of hidden message in this album as there was in related band Out Hud’s last effort, marking their departure. If this album proves anything it’s that !!! continue to improve on an already solid foundation. And with that, I invoke the three words one more time. Wow. Wow. Wow.