When !!! first undulated out of Northern California in the late 1990s, the underground hadn’t yet gotten its groove back. Disco was still a dirty word, the phrase “four on the floor” verboten. Punks didn’t dance unless it meant they could leave bruises on their partners, and indie rock was still slouching, inertly, toward slackerdom. Emerging from Sacramento, of all places, playing music rooted equally in the jagged funk of post-punk and the rubbery rhythms of actual funk, the band—whose name, as must always be mentioned, is most commonly pronounced “chk-chk chk”—felt like it was doing something radical, if not downright revolutionary. Naturally, that gave its members a bit of a complex.
In retrospect, Offer acknowledges how snobby that sounds. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t true, though. It’s still true now. Few of its peers are as dedicated to the purity of the groove. LCD Soundsystem may have earned Band of a Generation status from critics, but James Murphy approached his brand of dance rock with ironic detachment. Even Daft Punk hides behind light-up pyramids and big concepts. For !!!, the only concept it’s ever operated under is that music should loosen inhibitions, and the group has never hidden enthusiasm for its own party—particularly live, with Offer, clad in short shorts, bounding through the crowd, locked in a fit of stream-of-consciousness twitching and voguing.
Going into the recording of its fifth album, though, !!! found itself in a bit of a rut. With each successive record since its 2001 debut, the group has gradually sanded down the “punk” half of its dance-punk genre tag, attempting to mold itself into, simply, a great dance band. With 2010’s Strange Weather, Isn’t It?, it finally seemed to get there, producing an album that pulsed with the persistent throb of a transcendent DJ set. But the response, from critics and fans, was tepid.
“I knew every nook and cranny of that record,” Offer says. “We were really proud of it. I don’t know why people didn’t respond to those songs. Therein lies the rut.”
To dig itself out, the band felt it had to, in a way, start over. One way of doing that was to hire Jim Eno, Spoon’s drummer and in-house producer, to help it realize the ideas it couldn’t quite achieve on its own. Titling the new album Thr!!!er seems brashly iconoclastic, but the appropriation is more than a cheeky joke: Trying on a few fresh grooves, like the cool strut of “Even When the Water’s Cold” and the New Wave stomp of “Fine Fine Fine,” while knocking out more familiar ones with even sharper confidence, this is the record—as its namesake was to the career of its creator—that all previous !!! records were building toward.
Offer feels the same. He doesn’t call it a reinvention necessarily. It’s just that, after 16 years of practice, the band is finally living up to its youthful swagger.
“We had to do a left
turn before we could take a right turn with certain things,” he says.
“Other things are stuff we’ve gotten better at nailing. But we always
wanted to make a record this funky, and now we have.”
SEE IT: !!! plays Bunk Bar, 1028 SE Water Ave., with White Arrows, on Monday, June 3. 9 pm. $15. 21+.