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!!!, ‘THR!!!ER’ – Album Review

In the introduction for their fifth LP, !!! reveal that they did, indeed, mean for something to be inferred by the album’s title. Just as that other record called ‘Thriller’ represents a high-water mark, both creatively and commercially, for its artist and genre (Michael Jackson and pop), this record marks a peak for the California dance-punks. The cleverly placed exclamation marks might have been the deciding factor, but !!! think this is their ‘Thriller,’ and it’s pretty hard to disagree with that.

In terms of focus, ‘THR!!!ER’ quickly stands apart from the group’s previous albums, which have often lacked cohesion and direction and failed to capture the live energy that !!! have built a career on. For ‘THR!!!ER,’ the band did away with their jamming tendencies and wrote the songs ahead of their studio time, making for a collection of tunes that allow them to explore new territory. And the amount of quality material that came out of this is staggering.

Along with producer Jim Eno, !!! surprise listeners with what they are capable of with a little more forethought. ‘One Girl/One Boy’ is a disco-punk revelation, with screwball antics and irreverence reigned in and replaced with nonstop hooks in the verses, choruses and tight bridge, which allows the low-end synths to push the song’s energy to banger levels.

On other standouts, !!! don’t simply rehash the sound of ‘One Girl/One Boy.’ ‘Slyd’ extends a vintage DFA canvas and a cut-up arrangement of vocal tracks that produces dance-floor drama and climactic drops. ‘Except Death’ features some of the early-80′s pop-R&B falsetto vocal tics and post-disco backing that made the original ‘Thriller’ a success.

Amid these refinements, !!! never lose track of who they are. They allow for the songs to stray for instrumental breaks, but they do so in a scripted and controlled fashion, dictating how the live shows will play out rather than letting performances dictate the album, as they previously have.

With the Hot Chip-esque ‘Careful’ and the LCD Soundsystem-style talkiness ‘Get That Rhythm Right,’ !!! seem for the first time to be at home with the bands that they were contemporaries of from their start, and they do so without sounding dated. ‘THR!!!ER’ might have fared better had it been released a decade ago, but with this post-dance-punk sound still prevalent, the record could catapult !!! a level in music standings and live up to the title in an unexpected way.

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