!!! Do Berlin
"Jack London said, 'You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club,'" says !!! frontman Nic Offer, relaxing in a South Brooklyn café. "And I say, 'You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go out to the club.' " Such is the motto for this unpronounceable dance-rock band—often going by "Pow-Pow-Pow" or "Chk-Chk-Chk"—on their fourth album, Strange Weather, Isn't It?
Originally hailing from Sacramento, it was when the ensemble (along with now-defunct sister band Outhud) relocated to New York City in 2000 that they found their groove, releasing rubbery and ecstatic singles like 2003's "Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard" and a deft pumping up of the Magnetic Fields' "Take Ecstasy With Me." But now, despite living in the birthplace of disco, the band still makes a point of taking a field trip when it comes time to record. "We don't live together," Offer explains. "It's about picking an area and going, 'OK, we're here, we're in this room—now what?' And Berlin was perfect for that." Decamped to the second home of everyone from Bowie to Lou Reed to Iggy, the band wasn't seeking out Brian Eno, but instead imbibing inspiration from the hedonistic techno scene that has defined Berlin for decades. "We'd play music all day, go out at night and hear music really loud, and get back to it the next day and play again," Offer recalls.
Only it wasn't so simple as that. The band that road-tripped down to Nashville for 2007's rollicking Myth Takes had splintered: Percussionist John Pugh broke off to form Free Blood, bassist/tape manipulator Justin Vandervolgen left to pursue his own dance productions, and mid-recording, Tyler Pope was recruited by that other extant NYC disco-punk band, LCD Soundsystem. But the biggest loss came when drummer Jerry Fuchs died after falling down an elevator shaft last year in a freak accident. It's a tragedy that still haunts the band and the music community at large. "Ultimately, there's no lesson learned that can replace that loss," Offer says. "But if anything, the album is about a release from darkness."
Informed by two gray, chilly months in Germany, the results are the band's darkest grooves to date (which is saying something after releasing two dance albums in the dour Bush-Cheney era). The honeyed coos of first single "AM/FM" belie "Nothing in the rearview mirror/Except a trunk full of regrets." Inside the dubbed-out caverns of "The Most Certain Sure," Offer's voice ricochets about "something in the shadows [that] still makes me shudder." Release comes in the furious finale of "The Hammer," an ever-ratcheting track built from a single phrase from Offer and Fuchs's massive drumming, a fitting ode to the man that offers a bit of closure as well.
After a decade together, with their mid-aughts dance-punk brethren vanished for the most part, !!! carry on. "Dance music is never going to go away," Offer says of his band's future. "I don't know what else we could do. But it's always going to be a good idea to dance."
!!! play the Music Hall of Williamsburg October 6 and 7
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