Have you ever noticed that when things get really bad -- Nicholas Berg bad, $1 trillion deficit bad, 43 million people with no health insurance bad -- everybody wants to dance? I've been noticing it all year: as the news grows ever darker and more depressing, indie-rocker after indie-rocker informs me that people are finally "lightening up" at shows, shaking their skinny, white butts in ways that may not be entirely advisable. !!!, the repetitively named Brooklyn/Cali phenomenon, have dropped their second full-length just in time to ride the trend, pushing an apocalyptic dirty bomb of funk, punk, dub and trance out onto a party floor that might blow at any minute.
Louden Up Now fits right into the Brooklyn-based dance-revival strata defined by The Rapture, O.U.T.H.U.D. (with whom !!! share members) and Radio 4's dubbier side ("Pipebombs", for instance). Going further back, you can hear hints of The Clash (and its bastard offspring B.A.D.), Joe Jackson, Gang of Four and Funkadelic, but not in a canonical, "this is great music from the past" kind of way. !!! is like the smart kid -- the one who wouldn't be caught dead studying -- posing a historically-grounded case for hedonism, filthy language, and, above all, dancing.
Funk is all about bass, so it undoubtedly helps that !!!'s bass player, Justin VanDerVolgen, is also the group's sound man. You can hear him right up front on almost every track, joined at the head with drummer John Pugh in an absolutely killer rhythm section. But screw it -- everyone in !!! plays rhythm. Singer Nic Offer's vocals are more cadence than melody, and the guitars, from Tyler Pop and Mario Andreoni, jab in and out like a kamikazi pilot. Sax, percussion and keyboards -- contributed by Dan Gorman and Allan Wilson -- are all about the groove. The pieces fit together chaotically, seamlessly, dense or bare, in syncopated beats.
The album opens with a "Pump Up the Volume"-style synth beat richocheting around congas, saxophone and rapid-fire vocals. Everything on "When The Going Gets Tough The Tough Get Karazzee" is percussion -- even keyboards and vocals, which slash on and off the killer beat. There's a break mid-track, and we seem to be in an entirely different song -- an unadorned bass and drum line punctuated by occasional stabs of guitar, and becoming gradually more chaotic. Then the spoken-sung vocals come in, making a smart argument for being stupid (or at least turning off your brain): "You can learn a lot / from taking your chances / You can learn a lot from taking your pants off / but if you want to know the truth / if you want to know love / then just go for the movement / and stare at the sky."
Louden Up Now's songs are slyly funny, and never more so than in the potty-mouthed single "Pardon My Frreedom". This FCC-baiting funkstorm, all pulsating bass line and twitchy guitars, opens with the words "Omigod, did I just say that out loud?". Well, not yet, but it's coming. The gleeful, percussive chorus of "Like I give a fuck / Like I give a shit about that fucking shit" repeats itself to oblivion against an irresistibly syncopated dancefloor background, high hat shussssshhing against the congas, bass thudding under a firewall of electric noise. Take that, Michael Powell.
The disc's best song is the Clash-leaning "Hello? Is This Thing On?". Its eerie opening guitar riff sounds a bit like Pere Ubu's "30 Seconds over Tokyo", but that gives way almost immediately to a backslashing reggae bassline shot through with dancefloor drums. The song is over seven minutes long, but never boring; the vocals give way to stark, funky instrumental interludes -- drums, bass, staccato bursts of guitar. Last year's single "Me and Giuliani Down By the Schoolyard" is similarly long, but never tedious -- cowbells, saxophone and sibilant vocals push it forward over its nine minute span.
In "Shit Scheisse Merde Part 1", Offer observes that "If I had a dollar for every single yes / but had to take away one for every no / I'd have about six dollars / which divided by seven / do your math / that ain't / shit, scheisse, merde." For what it's worth (and it's probably not the full dollar), I'm saying yes, yes, yes. This is the smartest fun music (and the most fun smart music) I've heard this year.