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Sacramento's !!! (Chk Chk Chk if you want to Google them) are pretty hard to pin down these days. Six albums in and their old punk-funk formula, which was typically the sound that they proudly brandished, is getting less and less evident with each new full-length release. Nic Offer - their highly charismatic, cool as hell frontman and co-founder - is pretty forthcoming about his continued desire for !!! to remain an experimental, collaborative, ever-evolving outfit. In a Spin interview to promote their excellent album THR!!!ER back in 2013, Offer said: "Jim (Eno, producer) would suggest things that seemed odd to me, but I figured if we did it my way it would sound like a typical !!! record. It seemed like it was probably best to avoid that. If [a new song] doesn't sound like !!!, we figure we're in good territory.”

It's quite possible that their latest LP is their weirdest, most unpredictable one yet. Recorded at the legendary Sunset Sound in Los Angeles (used by acts as respected and diverse The Doors, Sly & The Family Stone, The Rolling Stones and Elton John) As If jumps feet-first into the band's appreciation of dance music, namely the house genre. There are some bangers on here, that's for sure. The album begins with the deep house thud of 'All U Writers', a song that's been around for quite some time as it was released for Record Store Day back in April. It's heavy, infectiously groovy and super danceable, which happen to be the main reasons I absolutely adore the group. So much so that I ran towards them when they played at Primavera in 2014, bounding towards the stage and nearly abandoning my friends just so I could get into the crowd to freak out. It's quite clear from track one that these guys are still a party band all right. Offer's twisted, drop-detuned vocals are of note here, along with the song's sparse minimalism. It does build, adding strange synthesizers and effects, with splashes of guitar for texture, but on the whole it doesn't stray from its initial beat. It's a fantastically decadent way to open, with the seedy refrain of "I knew I shouldn't have kissed him in his Chevrolet" via an unknown female.

'Sick Ass Moon' (which was shared on the buildup to the album's release, alongside 'Freedom! '15') continues the slightly dark yet sexy, minimalist aesthetic with another simple, stripped down drumbeat decorated with odd, rippling synths and handclaps. There is a total abandonment of guitar which struck me, as I don't remember any other !!! songs that had done this. 'Every Little Bit Counts' revisits the older pop-funk !!! vibes; a short, pretty and optimistic pop hit and an album highlight. In terms of how the band often sounds, the track kind of stands out on the album just for its rather conventional approach, nestled in amongst a mixed bag of !!!'s weirder offerings. The guitar and bass are back, and Offer channels his inner pop star. He's a rare kind of frontman, in that he can't really sing that well, but still makes it work. It evokes a kind of everyman ideology, pushing forth an attitude that anybody could do this job. Of course that's not necessarily the case: Offer is a talented musician and a multi-instrumentalist. But it's very inspiring all the same. He's humble and as real as they come.

The theme of freedom and letting go is pretty clear throughout the album, and 'Freedom! '15' is evident of that. It's a gorgeous, progressive number that features a duet between Offer and a female singer that sounds a lot like Shannon Funchess, a fantastic vocalist that has worked with the band numerous times in the past. The song is filled with defiance, coming from a jilted narrator and aimed at a former lover, and whilst it starts off fairly sombre, it escalates into a P-Funk-injected beast with a distorted, muffled, monster bassline that is literally a perfect example of why I listen to funk music. It's another album highlight and I can only imagine how good it would be live. 'Ooo' is a charming love letter of a song that actually makes me eat my words regarding Offer's vocal abilities. He really nails this one, switching between soft-spoken yet high pitched singing and a full-on falsetto delivery. He sure is a dynamic performer.

Unfortunately, As If isn't always this good. 'All The Way' takes a druggy, tripped-out route that harks back to Primal Scream's Screamadelica but unfortunately comes off nowhere near as good as anything off that album. The bass groove and keys are both fine, but the vocals sound silly and over-produced. It's great to hear the band having fun, but the song in question should really have been binned. It just makes you wonder how many good songs artists potentially shelve in place of ill-advised ones such as this. 'Till The Money Runs Out' kind of divides my opinion, as it features a great melody in the chorus with some brilliant disco backing vocals, but is just so cheesy. The lyrics stink too: "you and me oughta go down south, stay in a hotel until the money runs out, you and me oughta go up north, stay in a hotel and put the sign on the door." I love you Nic, but damn. The song itself is pretty good though, and I actually really dig the last two minutes when the song isn't tarred by the cheap verses, allowing the catchy instrumental to shine. Still, the inconsistencies exist.

As If culminates in 'I Feel So Free (Citation Needed)', an almost nine-minute long closer that got me excited when I saw the running length. I felt otherwise when I heard it. Again, Offer's vocals are treated with some weird-ass deep baritone filter that sounds like he's trying to be A$AP Rocky. I expected a crazy funk-rock opus in the vein of the Family Stone or Parliament/Funkadelic to close the proceedings, but what I got was an unimaginative, repetitive, not-so-memorable mess. The only good thing about the track is the backing vocals (which are always superb, it seems) and Offer's (surely) Stooges reference: he delivers the line "lemme tell you how I feel" the exact same way that Iggy does on '1969'. Maybe I'm off the mark there but I know my gut feeling, and it was lovely to hear.

It's with mixed emotions that I listen to As If. It's a record by one of my most beloved bands, a group of people that really give it some during their live performances, and who wear their hearts on their sleeves. It's encouraging to hear them experimenting and constantly defying the people who try to shoehorn them into just one genre. But against Strange Weather, Isn't It? and THR!!!ER (which were both adventurous, but with precision and brilliance) it just isn't a consistent !!! album. But if it's any consolation, As If is still brimming with the ecstasy and feeling of freedom that you'd expect to be promoted by the band at this stage in their near 20-year lifespan. So if you're a fan, grab your friends, go and buy the album and play it loud at the beach, in your bedroom, or wherever it is that you like to party. The spirit of clubbing lives on.

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