The hottest live show I ever experienced was a !!! show. And when I say “hot,” I mean sweltering. With grooves built for big stages and charisma that can charm overflowing festival crowds, the New York disco-funk troupe played to a sold-out crowd in a tiny club with a capacity of less than 200. Every single body in the house writhed and shook, and the mirrors on the wall had completely steamed up. Randomly, some over-stimulated fan rushed the stage between songs to shout “Marijuana!” into the microphone. But frontman Nic Offer, the perennial party animal and chill dude merely responded, “I don’t know who that guy is, but he kinda rules.” Once the band’s set had concluded, there wasn’t a dry t-shirt in the house.
Few other bands have the ability to literally raise the temperature of a venue like !!!, their fluid basslines and pulsing rhythms sending crowds into an uncontrollable dance frenzy. More than merely making good music, !!! is a band that excels at making incredibly physical music. It’s social and hedonistic, optimized for stimulating pleasure zones and sending pulses racing. Yet there’s a distinct chill running through the veins of the band’s fourth album, Strange Weather, Isn’t It? The beats still bump, and the grooves still throb, but there’s an intriguing darkness that permeates the group’s songs this time around.
Recorded in Berlin (as many great records often are), Strange Weather Isn’t It? represents a transitional period for the band. John Pugh, Justin Vandervolgen and Tyler Pope each exited the band prior to its release, which contributed to the change in the band’s dynamic. And that change is reflected in the title as well. Built largely upon the framework that made the band’s prior three albums such highly enjoyable disco-punk gems in their own right, Strange Weather strips away some of the rock elements in their sound in favor of a sleeker, more electronics heavy production rife with elements of dub and house. These elements loom large on first single “AM/FM,” a disco nightcrawler that layers on echo effects and hypnotic, pulsing electro. At its heart, it’s a !!! song, just a little more sinister, which makes it just a little more fun.
Guitars are all over “The Most Certain Sure,” but not in any particularly obvious manner. They repeat in a lengthy loop, or scratch and jangle beneath Offer’s reassurance, “Jamie, my intentions are bass” (also the name of another song on the album). Yet with “Wannagain Wannagain,” the band delivers some Studio 54 disco that’s as much Chic as it is Talking Heads. Synthesizers billow and float throughout, but it’s the pure funk that truly propels the song. The aforementioned “Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass” is draped in saxophone and dub effects, while “Steady As the Sidewalk Cracks” finds the band opting for more of an Afrobeat/highlife sound.
It isn’t until the album’s final four-song stretch that the chilly electronics begin to ramp up. On the brief “Hollow,” the group lays its arrangement bare, Offer and Shannon Funchess’ vocals left with just minimal backing. Even more successful is “Jump Back,” in which the group fully indulges their techno jones, phasing out the guitars completely for a dark and sexy synth effect. And the excellent closer “The Hammer” even affects a slow, minimal techno build before throwing in the congas, handclaps and bubbly effects.
To a certain degree, !!! hasn’t really changed all that much in the three years since Myth Takes. They’re still thumping out the same grooves that have been steaming up clubs for the past decade. But at the same time, !!! has embraced new elements and evolved since their early days of bolstering punk rock with disco beats. Strange Weather stimulates pleasure zones and sends the pulse racing yet again, but don’t be surprised if it’s followed by a sudden chill.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.