The dance-punk revival that seized New York around 2002 arguably started a couple of years earlier, in Sacramento, when !!! released their debut album, though they were drawn to Brooklyn soon enough. They were the Rapture before the Rapture—hardcore kids flushed with the discovery of samplers and dance music—and they shared an early bassist with LCD Soundsystem. They also had an extremely fun side project, Out Hud, that was more deeply indebted to house and electro than the disco-punk main unit, in which they raised fleets of horns and crashing cymbals for their freewheeling live shows. They were a ray of California sunshine piercing the paranoid gloom of their milieu, Day-Glo fashion hippies singing songs for pleasure instead of well-dressed men singing songs for oblivion. Let It Be Blue shows how dashingly they’ve settled into that role and ripened into their vintage influences.
All the strutting basses, pouncing guitars, steel-hooped drums, ravey arpeggios, and playful vocal samples you expect from !!! are withheld on the opening track, “Normal People,” a hopeful-sad acoustic bagatelle that may trigger startling memories of Badly Drawn Boy and seems destined for a Noah Baumbach film. But things swiftly get back to normal on “A Little Bit (More),” if your idea of normal sounds like Claude VonStroke giving C+C Music Factory a deep workout. “Here’s What I Need to Know” is lathered in trance synths, while guest singer Angelia Garcia ties a golden ribbon on the pumping dembow of “Un Puente.” The title track somehow gets from Mr. Oizo to David Bowie by way of the Juan Maclean, and it’s one of the only times that the record succumbs to the overly fiddly temptations of file-swapping projects. There is also dramatic, straightforward Human League synth pop and fantasy disco redolent of Phoenix’s I love youand that’s just the verses and choruses of “Storm Around the World,” featuring Maria Uzor.
The flashiest song might be “Man on the Moon,” a cover of REM’s borderline novelty hit in a roller-disco style with the slacker flavor of Beck’s “Loser.” Or, if you’re a real music nerd, maybe it’s “This Is Pop 2,” in which Offer spreads the patchy suede of his voice over dark-hued electro-pop, dabbing it here and there with spot-on British new- wave tics. It’s a fan sequel to XTC’s 1978 chris de coeur about the anxiety of definition, which likewise appeared on an album with a Beatles-baiting title. A litany of contradictory statements about the genre cancel one another out until one truism shines with special significance: “This is pop, and it feels like summer.” But it feels obtuse to try to analyze !!!, who like to romp around in music history but mainly use words to lure us closer to the bouncing cones, where the bass obliterates conversation, lest we risk what’s right there in search of some deeper meaning.
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