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On its 2004 album, Louden Up Now, Sacramento-Brooklyn dance-punk band !!! delivered plenty of tight grooves, but vocalist Nic Offer was a deal-breaker. Whenever he opened his mouth, hips straightened. Asses stiffened. Before long all the indie kids who had been rhythmically liberated by the band’s 2003 single, “Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard,” had quietly shuffled off the dance floor and returned to the back of the room to itch their beards in un-funky solitude. When Offer asked the President to give him a blowjob on “Pardon My Freedom,” it was the least sexy moment of the band’s career.
You don’t have to be Bob Dylan to write lyrics for dance tunes, but Offer’s lyrics on Louden Up Now committed the worst sin imaginable in the funk universe—they were uptight. From hardcore-style scene callouts to his aggressive plea for George W. Bush to go all Monica Lewinsky on him, Offer’s rants made an otherwise great party record sound flaccid. But on the band’s new album, Myth Takes, Offer finally relaxes—or at least gets out of the way. When the chorus of “Heart of Hearts” blurs into a pummeling, CD-skip style chant of “harder, harder, harder,” well, that’s pretty hot. Maybe the hottest moment of !!!’s career. Hot enough to bring the beard-scratchers back.
A bit of dumbing-down works to the band’s benefit. “Must Be the Moon” playfully shifts between bouncing hip-hop and Talking Headsnstyle trance rhythms, as Offer delivers a narrative that’s more Red Hot Chili Peppers ÔªøÔªøthan Sugar Hill Gang: “Kissing in the cab on the way back across the bridge/She says, ‘Love is love but a fuck is what it is,’?” he raps. When Offer tried to be meaningful in the past he wound up sounding like a hardcore kid fronting a West Coast version of Liquid Liquid—which is essentially what he was. But on “Must Be the Moon,” his tales of philandering steer clear of groove-crushing earnestness. Lines like, “Really who was keeping score/We did it on the bed/And we did it on the floor,” are good-time throwaway lines, designed only to keep your attention until the band tears into the Butthole Surfersnstyle psychedelic disco-danceÔªø routine at which it excels.
Offer’s vocal delivery has made a similar leap forward. He used to constantly struggle to find the right balance between singing and shouting, and the latter often won the battle. On “Heart of Hearts” he finally carries a tune: “Good enough, just ain’t good enough unless it’s felt in your heart of hearts,” he sings in a shady moan-whisper. Justin Timberlake he ain’t, but he’s capable enough to hold things over until guest vocalist Shannon Funchess ÔªøÔªøcan sweep in to sing the bridge and shift the chorus into sexy stuttering. That’s not the only time that !!! lets another singer give Offer a break. On the glammy “Yadnus,” Offer is demoted to backup yodels while percussionist John Pugh delivers lines like, “I’ll take anyone/New York to the sun.”
Offer still has his risqué moments, particularly on “Bend Over Beethoven,” and it wouldn’t suit the band to clean up completely—they are a funk band, after all. But on Myth Takes, over-the-top sexuality is handled with Bootsy Collins’ humor instead of with politically charged anger. This time around, the band makes sure not to kill the vibe—which, if the sampled bong gurgles on “Bend Over Beethoven” are any indication, is good.