Leave it to a band with an almost unpronounceable name to succeed on its own stylistic terms. Sacramento-based mutating disco-punk band !!! harks back to the early days of American punk, in a time full of Loverboys and Night Rangers, and !!! stays true to that spirit on its new album, Shake The Shudder (Warp Records, May 2017).
The quintet formed more than two decades ago, taking inspiration for its name from the clicking sounds that are part of the aboriginal Bushman tribes' language in the 1980 comedy, The Gods Must Be Crazy—the band chose Chk Chk Chk as the sonic equivalent of !!!.
While !!! has always been a high-energy, groove, rock machine, it approached each of its seven albums differently, making them distinct without leaving the boundaries of their funk/psych/rock commune.
"That's the gauntlet we set down in the beginning," says !!! frontman Nic Offer. "The idea was that post-punk or the type of psychedelic music we were interested in was something new and something different and something unique. It's always been about pushing forward and discovering something else. In a way, that whole ideology has become what our jail is, what our style is. That's what strings it together."
In some ways, the band really is like a commune: Since its self-titled 2001 debut, 13 different members have rotated through !!! without changing the character of the music in appreciable ways.
"It's that old adage about make new friends but keep the old ones tight," Offers says. "There's been a strong foundation that's like a family, but there's always kind of a 'new puppy,' too. I think ... the new people that have come in has been a major part of keeping it going and turning it into something else and giving it a different sound."
!!!'s debut indulged the breaking post-millennial new wave nostalgia, while Louden Up Now (Warp, 2004) exposed its jagged, punky, agit-prop roots, like in tracks "Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)" and "Pardon My Freedom." For Myth Takes (Warp, 2007), !!! dropped the politics and brought to bear a broader perspective, tremendous production value and a kitchen sink full of funk and hip-hop styles. For its 2010 release, Strange Weather, Isn't It? (Warp), !!! zeroed in on the dancefloor, excising some of the slower moments in Myth Takes for a turbo-beat crush. Founding members guitarist Tyler Pope and bassist Justin Van Der Volgen left before Thr!!!er (Warp, 2013) and drummer Paul Quattrone helped key a revitalized rhythm. Jim Eno (Spoon) lent his expertize through crisp, tight production, highlighting every snare snap and cymbal crash in what is arguably !!!'s finest album.
Offer called As If (Warp, 2015) the "Ableton album," due to its use of the groundbreaking production/software tool, but Shake The Shudder is the rare case in which !!! didn't abandon the the technology of a previous album to try something new.
"We really got into Ableton, and we're kind of still there," Offer says. "In fact, we're working on our next thing and getting even deeper into Ableton. It's just such an endless tool—you think you know how to use it, and then you discover all these other tricks. I kind of played with the idea of switching to something else, but I guess it's good to feel like you still don't know what you're doing with something, or feel like there's still something to learn with it."
For Shake The Shudder, the band captures the spirit of favorite dance tracks, but cuts them, samples them and makes them !!! tunes. It sounds involved but, according to Offer, it's really not.
"Let's remember this is Ableton which means [the process] is not very painstaking at all," he says. "It's relatively easy and it's kind of fascinating. So much of the house music we were getting excited by was just old disco loops with a kick drum under it. Our process is we basically jam for hours on end, record everything, pick out the best things and start looping it up. Once you start making those loops and throw the kick drum underneath it, it's very fun, and there are tons of things you can turn into other tracks."
While many established bands take more time between releases, given the diminishing returns of recording versus touring), !!! has picked up the pace. Shake The Shudder is its third album in four years—it first four albums were released over 10 years.
"I think we just like to work. So it's like as soon as we're finished making a record, I want to make the next one," Offer says. "Getting out and touring is more like where you cut loose and celebrate finishing the record. That's part of it, a part of the process. It's like seasons almost: Winter makes you appreciate the summer and vice-versa. We're glad to get out there, for sure."