The sudden rise to indie rock stardom of the enigmatic !!! has left audiences and critics alike a bit bemused. Standing on the fringe of a flock of indie rockers who would rather dance than shoe-gaze, neither their love affair with ‘80s new wave nor their reverence for soul is what listeners find so shocking. Rather, their mystique has mainly on what one might call their image. Adopting an unpronounceable moniker, working and living more or less collectively, and refusing to pose in the ubiquitous and incessantly trendy stance of dour underground coolness for the music press, !!! have nonetheless found a seemingly limitless fan-base that has managed to digest their genre-busting booty shakers under with the more palatable nom de rock “chk, chk chk”.
Yet, as punks trading angst and the three-minute thrash for hedonism and the eight-minute jam, it is little wonder they’ve received as much pooh-poohing from the indie rock elite as they have accolades. Despite the group’s inability to fit snuggly into accepted definitions of indie rock, punk, house, or jam, their sophomore album, Louden Up Now launched them into the searing limelight. Gearing up for their follow-up full-length album due out in Spring 2006, !!! have released what they refer to as a sort of practice single allowing them to experiment with new forms before they begin their characteristically spontaneous songwriting process. True to their irreverent sense of humor, the group chose to test their mettle not with failsafe new wave classics, but with two tracks by contemporaries the Magnetic Fields (“Take Ecstasy With Me”) and Nate Dogg (“Get Up”).
“Take Ecstasy With Me,” the first track on the single (or “side A” if one is lucky enough to acquire the 12”), is a lush new wave dance hit infused with sophisticated world music timbres. Strange and eclectic tones cascade over monster beats as washed out vocals drone a hypnotic melody. The mix is sparse with fuzzy guitars keyed to shimmering synths and a techno feel that is dynamic without feeling too much like an acid trip. The song develops in slow and subtle ways, moving with the body’s internal rhythms and blood flow, delicately massaging the ear to full blown orgiastic ecstasy. Despite all this activity, the song never loses track of it’s most essential element, the beat, urging audiences to bust a move rather than flop along in morbid hippie twirls or show off through self-aggrandizing sing-along. In short, the song is a testament to !!!‘s profound commitment to the party ethos.
“Get Up” is less danceable, but a real doozie. If this is a harbinger of things to come, then !!! is on their way to a fusion of funk and raw krautrock inspired noise. The track opens honestly enough with a blistering funk bass line that remains solid throughout the first movement of the track. The E-laced vocals on the A-side are replaced by an articulate low growl that morphs from sexy bravado to a menacing whisper. The song’s dirty grind is washed clean with fuzzed out guitars and sparkling synth tones. The neck snapping beat builds to a predictable house crescendo on the first breakdown, but soon disintegrates into a break-neck tempo. Suddenly, the track is a noise-laden behemoth a la Can. The once sexy vocals collapse into screaming chaos and vocal distortions, the beat becomes undanceable, and the aphrodisiac turns into angst-laced venom. The many twists and turns of “Get Up” compose a brilliant, albeit risky, maneuver on the dance floor.
Overall, the single is well-balanced and leaves this critic perched on the edge of her seat, salivating for the full-length album to arrive and burn the rubber off her dancing shoes. Whether !!! is tending toward the aesthetic displayed in the more disco-oriented A-side or the more experimental B-side is a question only the full-length release itself can answer. Either way, this single predicts yet another inscrutable artistic success.