!!! - As If (Album Review)

Thursday, 15 October 2015 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

!!! are a band designed to befuddle. For starters, that introductory sentence doesn't even make sense unless you say the band's name as three monosyllabic sounds (they prefer Chk Chk Chk). And, if making experimental music means confusing the listener at every turn, !!! certainly tick that box too. One track on 'As If', the wryly titled Freedom! '15, even challenges listener to keep up by asking: “Did you figure it out, what this song is about?”

So far, so pretentious, but to describe the band simply as experimental only tells half the story. Integrating disco, funk and post-punk influences, the !!! collective originally burst onto the scene on the same wave that swept dance-punk revivalists LCD Soundsystem and Death From Above 1979 to critical success. As their albums have progressed, though, the band have moved so far into the left-field that they've become almost unrecognisable.

That said, 'As If' initially appears to be the band's danciest album yet. Each track is built on similar cascading synths, fuzzy basslines and 4/4 on-the-button house grooves.

Guest singers pop up to add a bit of flavour, but most of the vocal duties are handled by band leader Nic Offer, whose low-key style works quite well, guiding things along rather than taking centre stage.

This more minimal approach definitely works on stand-alone tracks. All U Writers is a strong opener as the band add texture with funky guitar licks and squealing counter-melodies, while Freedom! '15 builds from an infectious groove to an epic synth breakdown. The buzzwords from the band have been “experimentation” and “progression”, but the best songs here are, ironically, funky synth-pop numbers.

Consequently, the band's continuous attempts to subvert the listener's expectations makes for a lot of filler. All The Way and I Feel So Free (Citation Needed) are messy and horrendously produced, with annoying, filtered vocals drowning out most of the interesting musical ideas. The latter, in particular, sounds as though it's ascending to a type of climax but never quite gets there, instead rumbling on for nine tedious minutes.

In fact, the ending typifies the problem with !!!'s outlook. Rather than validate their good ideas by giving them room to breathe – something they were very good at on their more guitar-based early records – they fiddle about too much. The result is an album that sounds incoherent and vague, despite being reasonably unvaried in its grooves and song structures. !!! are fearless and provocative, and that should be commended, but it was more fun when we were in on the joke.

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