Strange Weather, Isn't It?
Monopolised by James Murphy’s master LCD screen, the dance-punk that was scorching our feet until last night has fallen on hard times. The law of demand has changed as much as the law of supply, and if on one hand, we don’t feel like having our bodies dance as much as our minds, on the other hand, the main stars also seem to have disappeared. Beyond Murphy, the only one who has managed to get off a dead-end street by turning down the road towards synth-pop, few people are showing off with any style under the mirror-covered disco ball. That great heir of 70’s p-funk device that was supposed to blow up basements and patios has ended up shrinking in on itself in one of the strange ways that revivals behave. What has happened to seminal groups like The Rapture and Radio 4, who we had so much hope for? Not much, although where there is a fuse lit, there will always be the smell of gunpowder. It might not be very fresh, but today we have new news from !!!, the weed in this story.
The career of this group from Sacramento –fifteen years, with releases spread out over 2000, 2004, 2007 and 2010– shows the ups and downs that it has faced because of trend-related stigma more than anything else; it also allows us to analyse how the group has managed to pass so tragically from ardent to aseptic. Because the first thing you wonder when you listen to this new album is to what extent !!! really needed to use up all of their bullets. “Strange Weather” not only suffers from intense exhaustion, but it also tells us that they found everything that they were looking for as a project a long time ago, specifically in the forceful “Myth Takes”, their best-written album, and the swan song that should have been the crowning glory of their career. There is no doubt that the ills and problems that weigh this album down also come from the internal pressure undergone recently within the group: the desertion of John Pugh, Justin Vandervolgen, and Tyler Pope this year, and the unexpected death of drummer Jerry Fuchs the last. In any case, Nic Offer has decided to go ahead, accepting that today it would be cruel but readily assimilated to say that !!! has been mortally wounded.
The results are weak —you will have already gotten the idea— and to top it off, rumour has it that we are looking at a sick band, a band about to break up. With this in mind, the uneasiness isn’t hard to see or to hear. Behind the very weak first part of the album, which flows by without vigour, freshness, or variety, it’s clear right away that Offer hasn’t given this title his all as the commander-in-chief ( “Hollow” could pass for a demo of the carnal bacchanalias of yesteryear). Knowing as well that he is animated and enthusiastic about starting from zero with the project that he has just started with new group member Rafael Cohen, my theory is that what Offer needs is to get out of !!!, exorcising whatever ghosts are necessary along the way. Involved in two projects as special, interesting, and looked down on as Jean On Jean –in the hands of Offer’s ex-partner in Out Hud, Molly Schnick– and the solo leader of Las Palabras, Cohen, who also has a past in Supersystem, symbolises the shore where Offer needs to tie his boat up now, the turning point where he could get his act together again. We’ll have to wait awhile (their joint project is still in its embryonic stage), but hopefully together and left on their own, they can get the blood flowing like they haven’t been able to in this album.
“Strange Weather”, more than an album that doesn’t want to take a risk, seems like one that doesn’t need to, and this ends up making it lazy. If we compare it with the shameless tension and degree of unpredictability of their music before, the European !!! album recorded in Berlin, more of a British legacy than ever, sounds like the last will and testament of an exhausted group, and even worse, one in danger of extinction. The anxiety that gave them life before barely raises its head here, beyond a few sporadic examples like that reptile called “AM/FM”, the sulphuric “The Hammer”, or a hopeful “Steady as the Sidewalk Cracks”, isolated moments where the memories of the best!!! appear. Nevertheless, everything blurs along the way, with the cruise control on, and the recording ends up being monotonous, a little like what happens with the linear quality of Delorean’s “Subiza,” but more poorly handled. Besides that, someone has managed to put out Shannon Funchess’s powerful voice –she’s another of the new members– while at the same time forgetting to accentuate that of a boring, neutral, monochord Offer, who not long ago fascinated with his incongruous gobs of spit. The same obsessions as always are still latent –Prince, Iggy Pop– but they have no hook, no danger. What remains is definitely a bearable, but not fighting result from a band that always seemed to be guilty of everything and which now, for the first time, sounds harmless.