!!! Don't Give Themselves Enough Room on 'Strange Weather'

!!!

Strange Weather, Isn't It? (Warp)

Brooklyn octet !!! still seem the most talented of last decade's disco punks. But even though they have a signature anthem or two to their name (the nine-minute "Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard" is a high-water mark for the genre), the group has always struggled with songwriting. The problem has come to a head on their fourth album, as they abandon the hooks and relative warmth of 2006's Myth Takes but for some reason hang on to that album's brevity. It's a bum move; Strange Weather's melodic shortcomings aren't particularly friendly to its clinical arrangements, but the real issue is that !!! don't give themselves enough time to achieve what they want to with each song.

Effusive frontman Nic Offer drifts into obnoxiousness a little easier without a good song to sing, but that's never mattered before, thanks to the unstoppable rhythms backing him up. Even on Strange Weather, Isn't It? highlights like "The Most Certain Sure" and "Steady as the Sidewalk Cracks," though, there's a logjam of structural ideas. If !!! were trying to make another pop record the solution would be better editing, but they're not, and so the question becomes why they didn't give everything in the song enough room to work. Most of the tracks end up in an ungainly heap, rushing through grooves they could just as well have earned in an extra minute or two (except "Hollow," which is three minutes too long at 2:48). Aiming for the DJ booth, Strange Weather, Isn't It? could have been a major work for !!!, but aimed at the iPod, it's nearer than you'd think to being boring.