By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
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Let's face it: 1979 is so 1994. 1983 is the new now. Music critics from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly are all heralding electro aesthetics that stem from the decade of decadence, crediting all the glitz to artists like Miss Kittin, Playgroup, Felix da Housecat, and Fischerspooner. So maybe the fact that Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti recently started dating Eighties icon Drew Barrymore is the final symbol that last summer's love affair with the late-Seventies sound has finally expired. After all, 2001 is already so last year.
And if you believe all of that, I've got some tickets for David Lee Roth's summer tour to sell you. Decades are categorized arbitrarily and remembered selectively: Why "Eighties" means Human League and not, say, Kenny Loggins, we'll never know. But everyone is so quick to interpret this smug nostalgia as knowing retro-futurism that they're ignoring the other Eighties--the ones that started before 1983. The unpretentious postpunk that's currently being re-championed by bands like Erase Errata, Seconds, and Ex-Models. The influence that harks back to the Madchester movement that didn't care who Vivienne Westwood was. The funk that wiped the coke mustache off clubbers' faces.
The band called !!! might just be the closest thing to anti-electro: As so many Factory Records bands did before them, they choose sincerity over gleeful artifice, temper a fetish for the electronic with humanism, and emphasize groupspeak over individual personalities. In short, the NYC postpunk band is the new wave that's old enough to know better. Consider their birth: While attending Sacramento Art Institute Kollege, the band members went to a frat party where they were exposed to early-Eighties records by Michael Jackson, Sly Stone, and Chic--which they liked without, you know, putting that word in quotes. The group christened themselves !!! not long after the party ended, doing so as a flippant retort to SAIK's poseurs. According to a !!! interview on Brainwashed's Web site, the name was also meant to break down any art-school cult of personality: See it on a flyer, and you'll mistake it for enthusiastic marks about the opening band. Pronounce it the "wrong way" and you won't be admonished. (!!! can be read aloud as Chik Chik Chik, Bang Bang Bang, or any other sound repeated three times--just don't call them the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.) And yet !!! still hold a prominent place in the record stores: in front of everyone else on the alphabetized shelves. The alt-rock group A are now wiping their tears on their flannel sleeves.
If their name doesn't automatically make !!! unpretentious, their A Certain Ratio-meets-the Meters white-boy funk does make them grassroots--if you put the emphasis on the grass. One may begin to think--considering the band's mix of philo-stoner lyrics ("I do believe in shaking up our conceptions of reality") and jock-boy song titles ("There's No Fucking Rules, Dude")--that maybe mind-altering chemicals can actually dislodge poignant thoughts from your brain. And one also begins to realize that !!!'s song title "Feel Good Hit of the Fall" (emphasis mine) isn't exactly referring to a smash single. On "Storm the Legion," !!! singer and former Yah Mos vocalist Nic Offer declares, "LSD taught me a lot about me...I learned a lot from smoking pot." Good thing he doesn't name-check speedballs: He'd be so smart he'd be dead.
But Offer isn't just penning mantras for Robert Pirsig. You can tell a lot about someone by whether his drug of choice is meant for sharing with a group: Just compare Clinton, the joint-puffing negotiator, with Dubya, the coke-addled tyrant. And Offer's stance on mind candy feels deliberately framed as a class issue: In an age when fancy champagne is every Berlin-lovin' scenester's cheapest cocktail, Offer is returning to acid and nickel bags. He's helping to foster some quasi-queasy communal spirit through anti-conceptual songs.
In fact, soon after "Storm the Legion," in which seven of Offer's band members join him like the Clash of the titans, they all clap their hands and urge one another to "Feel it intensify!" By the end of the song, what started as a simple jump-rope chant has become a gospel choir's orgasmic ululation. Whether this bong funk amounts to a religious experience or just another way to have a good time is an open question. But, for now, we can just slap three exclamation marks on it and take it as it is.