The new !!! album finds them working with a slew of guest singers, exploring twitchy R&B, queasy dub-disco, romantic house, and more. As ever, their dance music is both celebratory and unsentimental.
It’s either a highly fortuitous coincidence or extremely unfortunate timing that !!! should drop its seventh album right when LCD Soundsystem have issued their first proper new music in seven years. Now that the usual 20-year nostalgia cycle has officially shrunk to 15, and now that there’s a whole bunch of new reasons to despise Rudy Giuliani, certainly the conditions seem ripe for a post-millennial New York post-punk revival. But while the comeback narrative—and the attendant skepticism toward it—dovetail nicely with the legacy of LCD Soundsystem (whose most resonant music grapples with the impossibility of reliving the past), such associations arguably do !!! a disservice.
Sure, the two bands share common origin stories (former hardcore kids reborn as slaves to the rhythm), influences, and, at one point, even personnel (bassist Tyler Pope). But for two decades now, !!! have never stopped and never looked back, and through subtle album-to-album evolutions, the band barely resemble their 2002 selves. In that time, !!! have gone from making punk more danceable to making dance music more punk: they’ve thoroughly internalized disco’s socio-political history, embracing the idea of the club as a safe haven for misfits, and promoting the philosophy of dancing as an act of defiance. That frontman Nic Offer’s bratty sneer and profane patter so often chafe against the band’s rubbery grooves is precisely the point: you don’t need to be a seasoned diva to join this party; just speak your mind and your ass will follow.
Where James Murphy’s personality and neuroses have become increasingly entrenched in the LCD sound, Offer has become evermore willing to cede the spotlight, as if to put disco’s spirit of inclusivity into action. More than any other !!! record before it, Shake the Shudder finds Offer riffing off a rotating cast of guest vocalists. And they provide the band with multiple pivot points to explore different directions. Opening track “The One 2” is a tense, twitchy R&B showdown with singer Lea Lea that taps a more sensitive nerve than this attitude-heavy band usually allows. “Throttle Service” features a jubilant, choir-like chorus led by former Out Hud bandmate Molly Schnick over warm organ tones and a huge wrecking ball of a bassline. And on the queasy dub-disco freakout “What R U Up 2Day,” the creepily warped, Grimes-like incantations are provided by Lea Lea and multi-instrumentalist Rafael Cohen’s young daughter.
Even on the tracks where Offer takes the lead, he often doesn’t sound like his usual self. In a nod to the intertwined histories of club and drag culture, “Dancing Is the Best Revenge” finds him pitching his voice up to create a feminine alter ego, Nicole Fayu, in the tradition of Prince’s Camille. But he’s careful not to teeter into camp caricature: over a steely bass groove, he pithily dismisses the niceties of nostalgia (“The old days ain’t coming back/Ain’t coming back no more/They might as well be tied up in a sack on the ocean floor/With cement blocks”) with all the icy nonchalance of someone flicking a cigarette butt in your face.
As “Dancing Is the Best Revenge” illustrates, !!! are at their best when making dance music that’s both unabashedly celebratory and stridently unsentimental. (Even better is the hard-house banger “NRGQ,” which honors the !!! tradition of putting terrible dad-joke puns to terrific use.) When the band veer into more typically romantic house terrain (“Our Love (U Can Get)”) and starry-eyed electro-rock (“Throw Yourself in the River”), their peculiar, provocateur personality is muted.
But even if they’re more liable to greet the world with a warm embrace instead of a middle finger these days, !!! haven’t lost their flair for infusing peak-hour hysterics with sobering morning-after rumination. Atop the robust P-Funk strut of “Five Companies,” Offer laments the homogenizing effects of unchecked capitalism (“Five companies/Running everything I see around me”), but ultimately decides he’s not going to worry about worrying: “Nothing grabs attention like the latest fear/Blah blah blah, the end is near/Everyone predicts it every single year.” At first, it seems like an oddly resigned response to our current political tumult, especially when you consider Offer thought nothing of telling the previous Republican president to “suck my fucking dick.” But in light of !!!’s long history of agit-funk activism, it’s actually a form of reassurance: we’ve danced our way through the dark times before, and we’ll do it again.