Monday, January 14, 2013

Day Fourteen, Bonus Track(s): !!! - "Heart of Hearts"


Warp Records ■ WAP 218


Released: February 19, 2007

Produced by Justin Van Volgen
Mixed by The Brothers and Justin Van Volgen

A-Side:
  • "Heart of Hearts"
B-Side:
  • [Silence]
I guess I don't need to tell you this is a picture disc, unless the sudden shock of colour completely blinded you. I picked this beauty up when I went to see !!! in 2007. And yes, if you haven't yet gathered, the name of this band is exactly what's printed on the A-Side up there: !!!. The pronunciation is technically any single syllabic non-verbal noise, and is typically written as "Chk chk chk"--and remember that, it's valuable information if you want to search for them.

In my alphabetical discovery phase, I went through eMusic's catalogue in, well, alphabetical order for a while. Back in 2000-2002, they had a very different selection. !!! began it, though, and did so with their debut album, the self-titled !!!. Considering some suggest the band actually broke up, went on hiatus, or otherwise disappeared shortly following its release, it's hardly a wonder they were such a pain to search for at the time. If all you know is their printed name, it's not any different now. Punctuation is generally ignored by most search engines, except where it is used as part of their own "lexicon" for clarifying searches. Unfortunately, using quotation marks is no different with Google. Having to use song titles is no way to search for any artist, but when it's the only way, it just makes you aware of how annoying it is. As such, while I still think of them as literally "!!!" and am disinclined to actually have a thought of them as "chk chk chk", it has been a boon to have a search term that actually works.

But, I digress.

The band has four albums under their belt now (!!!, Louden Up Now, Myth Takes, from which this comes, and Strange Weather, Isn't It?), and a smattering of singles and EPs. After the now-defunct Gold Standard Laboratories (responsible for releasing the early Mars Volta material, The Locust, De Facto, The Faint, and a variety of other bands that are familiar to me but only scattered few people I know) released that first album, the band jumped to Warp Records. Honestly, I found this weird. I identified Warp strongly with electronic music, as it was the label of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. In my head, I'd categorized !!! as some variety of funk thanks to songs like "Kookooka Fuk-U" and my then-favourite, "Intensify" (let me just add: single word song titles were not helpful in my searches, nor were nonsense words that might be split up or punctuated in a variety of ways. Thanks, guys.). Of course, I didn't know much about funk, or post-punk, or the oddly titled genre "dance-punk" (aka "disco punk" and "punk funk"--so at least I wasn't too far away).

The band has, even if they are not "funk", always had a groove and a very funky sound--though I'm not sure how I mean "funky", to be honest. It has that visceral element of funk (like "groove") that encourages movement, but it's also kind of weird.

"Heart of Hearts" comes from midway through third album Myth Takes, and starts out with two palm-muted guitars, one consistent, though high and sharpened, the other intermittent and nervous. Low end seems to try to force its way in, a drum seeming to be pounded in the background, even as the hi-hat rhythm plays along in the foreground, gathering up to a consistent beat. The bottom end drops in suddenly and the entire song lets loose. Nic Offer's too-cool vocals (never sung without a sense of humour--he actually stopped the show I was at to question why no one was laughing at his knowingly terrible dancing, and seemingly taking it seriously instead of having fun). The bass line and the boom-bap drums are insistent and propulsive, while the guitars hide in the high end and add nervous energy, alongside the hi-hat that hisses just enough to tie them both together. Sharon Funchess appears as guest vocalist for the bridge, a touch that adds the feeling that the song is rooted in music from decades earlier. The song moves, the song grooves, the song makes you want to dance (even if, like Nic, you can't). Sharon chants "Heartof, heartof, heartof, heartof" and her breathing becomes more impatient and rises in volume until the entire song drops--you think it's over, but it comes right back, with the guitars now swirling and chasing each other around in the air, echoing and reverberating around, the rhythm section untouched. There's another brief break as the song seems to be forced through a funnel, leaving only odd electronic noises over steady bass kicks. And then the hi-hat rhythm comes back, but it's an open cymbal now, and the bass doesn't come back. The hat tightens and then the drop back appears and--the song immediately drops to zero volume and ends.

This was a great choice for a single, no question. Myth Takes may be my favourite !!! album anyway, (not to be missed, too, is the "Brothers Mix" of the song, which originally appeared on the bonus disc included with initial presses of the album on CD--which wouldn't have made a bad b-side here!). But the song exemplifies everything good and great about !!!, and it's even pressed on not only a super-pretty slab of vinyl, but one that manages to exactly fit the feel and beat of the song as it spins, the way the lines splay and imply movement in multiple directions as it spins adding to the experience in an unusual way. You can actually see a bit of what I mean (the differing directions, at least--implying the record is almost turning in opposing directions or being used to scratch) in this shot:


I'm going to close with one more annoyance: I actually can't tag this post with the band's name. The character is excluded from tag options. Dammit.
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