It almost feels wrong to review a !!! (Chk Chk Chk) album. The dance-punk band make songs, best experienced in the sweaty throes of a shaking club. To see the !!! live is to see a quaking, rhythmic, groove machine in full, kaleidoscopic flow. They are a band to sweat to, love to, and shake to. They are a band that has the uncanny ability to punch themselves into the heart and the hips of every single member of their audience. They are the kind of band that add colour to grey days and remind stiff, tired feet just what they’re capable of.
However, even a band so synonymous with the good times as !!! can’t ignore the choking noises coming from the strangling of the liberal dream. Taking a step back from the glaring, hot lights of the center of the dance floor, new album Wallop finds the band patrolling the darker edges. In many respects, this is the group’s most serious album to date. That’s not to say there isn’t a whole lot of fun to be had. As frontman Nick Offer contemplates the world around him, tackling topics such as gentrification, corruption, and inequality, !!! do what they have always done – find sanctuary in the groove.
The album opens with the band taking up a familiar position with the fat, stalking synth chords of “Let It Change U”. Over stuttering beats and a groove so fresh that you could brush your teeth with it, Offer assumes his role of sonic ringmaster, corralling the music to the heart of the dance floor. “Couldn’t Have Known” is a more soulful, disco cut full of shiny synths, playful loops, and 1980s slap bass all held together by a frustratingly catchy, cartoonish vocal sample that doesn’t take long to lodge itself deep into your subconscious.
“Off the Grid” is the first essential track on the album. If you’ve slept on !!! for a while, then this is the track to haul you back on your feet. As the band slowly base the funk fire with a crackling synth line, the whole thing soon ignites as a wildfire of warped electronics, snapping percussion and thumping bass consume everything before it. It’s a wonderfully edgy, unpredictable track that shares sonic similarities with Liars’ Mess album. Fitting then, that Liars main man Angus Andrew should add the “Asinine” hook to give it a little more demented charm.
Over an echoing, drum loop and a spiky, garage riff “Serbia Drums”, is the closest !!! have sounded to their old, dance-punk selves in years. However, scrape the surface and behind the raucous, house-party vibe is a track that lifts the curtain behind the hipster dream to find the rotting carcass of the liberal ideal. “If you would have told me how things are/ I would have thought that we had won.”
“My Fault” is a gleaming, electro-funk tune that plays to the band’s strengths with inventive electronic flourishes over a pounding beat. “Slow Motion”/”Slow Mo” filters New York house through Bristol trip-hop as rippling bass swims with darker beats and one of Offer’s most disconsolate set of lyrics to date as he sees progressive ideas torn to shreds before his eyes. “They say these things happen for a reason / We all know that’s bullshit / That’s just what people say to make you feel better.”
“$50 million” mines 1980s disco with stuttering funk guitar, smooth synths, and drum machines. Here, Offer makes corruption sound positively alluring as he boldly proclaims that he’d happily reconsider any ideological stance for a cool $50 million. It’s classic Offer. Tongue in cheek lyrics that tease a deeper meaning. Floating on a steady stream of gently flowing electronics, “Domino” is one of the most addictively understated things the band has done in a long time.
Despite the characteristically buoyant beats and kaleidoscopic synths, there is a darkness to much of Wallop, as if the music is constantly being chased by shadow. “Rhythm of Gravity” is a case in point. Taking the essential elements of 1990s big beat and early British rave, it entices the listener to the darker edges of the dance floor. That continues with “UR Paranoid”; a nightmarish house meets electroclash track with Offer slowly overtaken by a kind of mania as the rhythm slithers and coils around him.
Final tracks, “This Is the Door” and “This Is the Dub” find Offer blinking in the cool, milky light of early morning supported by Meah Pace’s always compelling soulful vocals. As she pulls in the threads of soul, funk, and disco, hers is the kind of voice that you can imagine continuing, untroubled, and resolute even as the world continues to burn around her.
Wallop is the sound of !!! marking out new territory for themselves. By darkening the edges of their sound the band look beyond the dance floor to the streets outside, all while maintaining their characteristic flair for a huge, groove-laden tune. The peaks are some of their most pointedly thrilling to date, and even the less immediate tracks gradually reveal subtle new shades. The result is one of the band’s most consistently interesting and cohesive albums to date.