hatever monosyllabic clacking sound repeated thrice this band goes by (though no one really calls them anything other than Chk Chk Chk), they’re tough to quantify in the usual terms. They're undoubtedly a rock group but they're signed to Warp, a label defined by unflinching affiliations with the electronic music community and virtually none elsewhere. Their music is inherently danceable, but their choice of remixers (Maurice Fulton, Rub n' Tug, LFO) is far more eccentric than hip, which can’t be said about their contemporaries in the dance-rock non-community. Their releases span the divide from skeletal post-punk to indie-funk treble-fests to melodically anemic jams equal parts Can and Liquid Liquid. They’re responsible for two of the greatest singles of the last five years: the first ("Me & Guiliani"), a complex, multi-layered "song" with at least four discernible movements; the latter ("Take Ecstasy With Me" / "Get Up"), a double A-side that squeezes the Moby Grapejuice out of both Magnetic Fields and Nate Dogg. Their three full-length releases sound almost nothing alike as objective packages, yet all are unmistakably the work of the same band.
This is all well and good. None of it, however, really prepares the average listener for Myth Takes. Sure, Nic Offer still sings like he's somewhat embarrassed but totally turned-on to be singing for a real live rock band, the bass/drums/rhythm-guitar combo still dominate the proceedings, and all eight of them would need a thorough grooming before attempting the sartorial elegance of, say, the Strokes. But nearly all of the excess fat that burdened or buoyed their earlier efforts has been ruthlessly trimmed off here. Ten songs coming in shy of fifty minutes might not be a world-beater for your average emo band, but for a bunch of guys whose last single weighed in at more than a third of that, it's like John Holmes reborn as a castrato.
By and large, this newfound economy serves !!! quite well. The first and title track is immediately engaging, grooving in a reverb-soaked alternate universe where the Cramps and A Certain Ratio can get down and boogie in about the same time it took Link Wray to "Rumble." "All My Heroes Are Weirdos" ratchets up the frenetic pogoing a notch, but all the time-signature shifting is really just prog garnish gracing the classic indie dish of fast-and-slow, swimming in a sauce of distorted guitars and urbane "tribal" drumming. "Must Be the Moon" rattles along on an unmissable booty-commanding bassline and Offer’s standard lyrical bluntness, only instead of President Bush or the ex-Mayor of New York, his target is a quivering pair of thighs brought into harsh relief by the Earth’s sole satellite, that classic scapegoat of opium-benumbed poets of yore. Such brazen sexuality is hardly unexplored territory in a rock tune, but it says something for !!! and their semi-reluctant singer that all the panty-soaking action here comes at the expense, rather than the exercise of, his fragile male ego. "A New Name" and "Heart of Hearts" are the sound of !!! integrating side project Out Hud (now sadly defunct) into the corpus of the "real" band; the former a shimmering, dubby landscape of rapidly picked guitar and block-rocking bass, the latter a compelling argument for the sake of old-school house music performed by a rock band—drums echoing up from the basement, diva vocals deployed without shame, and bass taking the place of static sample-programming.
There's only one real gaffe on Myth Takes, and it arrives right at midpoint. "Sweet Life" is a pairing of unappealing partners, squiggly analog psych-rock mated with ham-fisted progressions and overvocalizing that could easily be mistaken for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who (coincidentally or not) have taken !!! under their unenviable wing for an upcoming tour. Thankfully, everything afterwards is gravy.
Less cohesive than your usual masterpiece but with a sense of unclouded enjoyment that most of those efforts often can't muster, Myth Takes is ultimately the kind of thing that's loads more fun to listen to than talk about. All of which means a band headed in precisely the right direction, towards that mythical land where critics and haters fear to tread lest they lose their carefully-cultivated sheen of disdain and surrender to the funky chicken. If Louden Up Now was the sound of !!! trying to integrate their fusion of conflicting ideas and failing admirably, Myth Takes is the band not giving a damn and succeeding improbably at something even more interesting. In a rock landscape crowded with oft-predictable scene-makers, !!! have unquestionably owned their own curious, distinct patch of turf. The evidence proffered by Myth Takes suggests them to be more pioneers than squatters, though, because right now they're perched on a plot you just might want to own a piece of, too.