Dance and punk were never friends. Uneasy coworkers? Sure. They shared the same work spaces in New York City and London, but friends? Never! Each functioned within their own social and cultural spaces with specific audiences, which is why when Blondie forged a groundbreaking cease-fire between the genres with “Heart of Glass” from their 1978 album Parallel Lines, it was miraculous. But, that was the exception, not the rule. And while that sort of temporary back-and-forth truce continued with the likes of David Bowie, The B-52s and others, the two soundpaths largely stayed at odds.
Jump ahead to 2000 and a musical movement cropped up as proof that there was a similarly thriving nucleus of non-conformity operating at each genre’s center, albeit in different ways. This common ground led to the genesis of dance-punk. Blasting out of Sacramento, California, !!! (pronounced Chk Chk Chk) were one of the leading officers of this new, unorthodox aesthetic. But as the years went by and the excitement around this artistic commingling cooled, many of the acts to come out of dance-punk fell away. Not !!!. They kept at it, honing their addictive brand that utilized everything from The Clash to D-Train with each record.
On their seventh LP, Shake The Shudder, !!! are back with their idiosyncratic musings. Nic Offer, the band's foppish, enigmatic frontman—with production assistance from Patrick Ford—whips the band into a frenzied, but fit state of foot-to-floor mania. Like previous sets, !!! blend dynamic live instrumentation with a pioneering DIY studio style that touches on 90s house, fizzy, rhythmic power pop and their own electro-funk hybrid whose references are seemingly endless to a knowledgeable audiophile.
At different intervals on this record, the group applies steady pressure to themselves to sometimes generate a “groove first” tactic. Lyrical hooks are accounted for, but they're not always the most important part of the song. Instead, the band may use the undulating pulse of the music itself to snare its prey, as heard on the record's lead single, the sparse, soda-pop soul swing of “The One 2.” Offer and guest vocalist Lea Lea's chemistry gets the crowd hyped, but when the music is ready to step up, they wisely move aside for the ghostly guitar picking and jittery synths to party up. The scowling shuffler “What R U Up 2day?” operates in a similarly fascinating fashion.
But Offer only relinquishes but so much of the spotlight on Shake The Shudder. “Dancing Is the Best Revenge” reformats his awkward charisma into a seductive, if comical, deadpan Denise Matthews inspired vocal―think Vanity 6's “Make-Up”―over beefy bass tremors and a greasy backbeat. It's one of the record's clear-cut classics. The vintage electro-rhythm of “NRGQ” recalls the hazy hedonistic milieu of Studio 54 (of course), but works alongside the dance festival crowd pleaser “Our Love (U Can Get)” comfortably. Each of these tracks finds Offer's deliriously kooky persona driving them to their climaxes.
Once the record wraps, it's irrefutable that Shake The Shudder is !!! making the once impossible, possible―marrying dance and punk music in a continually challenging, exciting way.
Long may they reign.
Notable Tracks: “Dancing Is the Best Revenge” | “NRGQ” | “Our Love (U Can Get)” | “Things Get Hard”