The strangest aspect of Strange Weather, Isn’t It? is that it is boring. If you know anything about !!! (a band name that has set off quite a trend) this remark may sound as bizarre as calling the Catholic Church scandal-free. For the Californian-NYC outfit has, over the past decade, made itself revivalists par excellence, digesting shifty dance punk miserabilism a la Gang of Four and producing piquant confections all of their own. Both 2004’s Louden Up Now and 2007’s Myth Takes flogged the glorious spine-tingling assets of clanging guitars, bendy basslines and a rhythm section as exacting as wiper-blades on full speed. !!! were cool and they earned it.
Three years, a death (Jerry Fuchs, the drummer) and several defections later (including the very excellent Justin van Der Volgen), !!! seem to have acquired a taste for the Happy Mondays, Euro disco, and ’90s house music. But steaming with froth and vigour their fourth album is not. Rather the band’s decamping to Berlin for its recording has cast a pall over it, painting the scene a listless monochrome. Even Nic Offer’s mildly sexy guttural croon appears to drop off into subterranean depths most of the time. And you can forget the thrillingly wayward twists and turns of dancefloor fillers of yore like “Must Be the Moon” and “Heart of Hearts”.
Curiously, when the colour does return momentarily to Strange Weather, it comes in the form of — gasp! — radio-ready tracks: “AM/FM”, with its translucent synths on springs, and “Steady As the Sidewalk Cracks”, which carries the double honour of having the most tuneful hook in !!!’s oeuvre thus far and an anthemic chorus. But it turns out, !!! aren’t even that good at being commercial, for this listener was scarcely left with echoing impressions for the homunculus in the brain. Indeed after the first few plays of Strange Weather, yours truly felt like a chronic depressive for whom no amount of shiny stimuli could move even an eyelid.
Suffice to say, Strange Weather is like a middling dance mix; its 10 tracks merging into a puddle of differing shades of grey that happens to have a kicking heartbeat (RIP Fuchs). Even the lyrics are bereft of inspiration and grit, with the listener getting no closer to Offer’s bygone agit-prop than on “Even Judas Gave Jesus a Kiss”, which, along with “Hollow”, is a cringe-worthy scallop of pettiness and self-righteousness.
That’s not to say that there is a fatal dearth of solid tracks to mull over. But mull you really have to before the compositional sophistication so celebrated of !!! emerges through the miasma like occasional flashes of lighting through dense cloud. “The Most Certain Sure”, for instance, is a fair stab at Depeche Mode doing neu-disco. While the percussion-heavy “Wannagain Wannagain”, featuring a nifty sax turn and Offer’s caustic stripes, is as true-to-form-aggressive as Strange Weather gets.
One of the more pleasant surprises is “Steady As the Sidewalk Cracks”. Though accessible to the masses, the song is close to shadowing !!!’s previous penchant for mixing up the elements — jangling pop, Afro-rhythms and jazz, in this case — without sounding nebulous. “The Hammer”, though, is by far the best track, but it comes right at the end. Its tempestuous raving mad progressive house finally got this listener’s heartrate up with visions of the Klaxons being produced by Armin van Buuren. If !!! were hinting at a new direction, why not let a track like “The Hammer” be the rule instead of the exception?
!!! have a track record of misfortune. Sadly, Strange Weather, Isn’t It? won’t turn things around for them.