!!!: Theme from Space Island
tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
There is a laziness you can breathe in midtown Sacramento. It might be the concoction of cool delta breezes, dry Central Valley air, and the 10 trees-per-square-foot ratio that blankets the damn place in shade. It could also be the psychic energies emitting from the state bureaucrats mired in paperwork, legal process, and daydreams of Yosemite or Lake Tahoe. Whatever it is, midtown and downtown Sacramento typically goes ghost town on weekend nights. The only sounds are the soft clang and chatter of a few dive and yuppie bars, drunk drivers here and there, and sparse local bands trying trying to find God’s blessings beyond mite publicity from a gig ad in the local weekly.
Nic Offer told me that his hometown’s laziness was one reason why his bands !!! and Out Hud left Sacramento for the wilds of Brooklyn. The atmosphere was not making them work hard enough on their music, apparently. Maybe it ultimately served them well: Brooklyn’s saturation of ideas undeniably nurtured their sounds to where they got write-ups in Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. Yet, Sacto can still be heard in the sounds of !!!. Even through the studio’s freeze-dried production of !!!’s so-called dance punk hit, “Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard (A True Story),” I still find myself there sweating in the 110 degrees of body heat in Sacto’s Capitol Garage where they played the song in a tiny corner. You will now have to spend around $600 for a VIP lounge to be where the band played a packed house that June night in 2002, as the old Garage got replaced by a glitzy bar. However, long after that night, !!! retains such humidity and suffocation in their music, beaming with the restlessness of living in a town where there is often little need to leave the TV set at home, as triple-digit summers heat and general boredom prevent it.
Which brings us to “Theme from Space Island,” their most poetic moment. Named after the band’s nickname for their hometown, the song’s two minutes always remind me of wandering midtown’s streets at night to find my car—walking through the hissing of bush sprinklers, the din of TVs shouting out of bedroom windows, and the clacking of leather shoes from state workers walking home. “What if you were told by nobody, would it be so bad? / You got the moon and you’ve got the stars, I mean, what else is there to have? / Well, don’t answer that / Don’t answer that,” Offer croons into the listener’s ear, sounding oddly akin to Mick Jones. The music captures that state of grace that calls for no answers. A simple, two-chord bass riff marches through the empty streets while a loose, roto-tom rhythm shuffles about. A reggae keyboard riff then emerges from the clatter, echoing thicker with each hit, and soon orbits in space. A melancholic piano line then pokes through, lifting its head up after staring down at a parking space while sitting alone on a parking barrier. “Space Island”’s general rhythm is nearly off the beat, as if the band slows down its pace to enjoy the sights around them. Unsurprisingly, it was a jam recorded in one take. The music halts when the band seems to desire moving onto something else; the musicians drop out and then look around the room to see if they did something right. Nonetheless, there is still a vivid sense of wandering those Sacramentan streets, breathing in that inimitable laziness and being simply content with where you are. Perhaps you can only walk midtown Sacramento streets at night to somehow understand what I’m talking about. Or maybe “Space Island” could be heard in such lonely walks through any town with houses aglow with TV sets giving the answers to unasked questions. Whatever it could be, I’ll follow Offer’s order to not answer.
By: Cameron Macdonald
Published on: 2006-03-15