When The Go! Team burst onto the music scene back in 2004 with their debut record “Thunder, Lightning, Strike”, they had a wholly unique sound, pieced together courtesy of a multitude of samples. High energy, throwback pop is what The Go! Team specialized in, the sort that you put on during a party or when you’re having fun with friends thanks to its uplifting and easily danceable melodies. Ian Parton was the man behind the name, and while he generated that entire debut album pretty much on his own, performing it live there were dozens of new recruits that came on board to help make sure that party sound was completely evident on stage. By creating his own merry band of misfits, Parton chose to actually use them when creating 2007’s “Proof of Youth”, collapsing the first record’s sample-heavy presence into something that could accomodate more live and original vocal performances. That second record boasted guest vocal spots from legendary hip hop pioneer Chuck D and Bonde do Role’s Marina Ribatski among others, though it was Parton’s way of mixing them on an even plane with those classic samples that got him in just a spot of trouble. If you’re not going to openly feature your guests at the forefront of the songs they’re on, then why have them contribute in the first place? It was that and what basically amounted to a repeat of “Thunder, Lightning, Strike” that sent The Go! Team on the downslope of popularity. Four years later, Parton finally makes a return with the third GO! Team long player “Rolling Blackouts”, and if you liked the first two there should be no reason to dislike this one.
A blaring horn section sounds the alarm for the fast-paced swirling of opening track “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.”. The whole thing is done marching band-style, with Ninja throwing down some high speed rhymes between the rather catchy chorus that naturally spells out the song title. It’s a great way to introduce “Rolling Blackouts”, with something a bit more straightforward and darker than what we might be used to while maintaining that flirty and fun vibe. Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki lends her vocal talents to “Secretary Song”, which is pretty classic Go! Team in how it utilizes a number of samples and pushes what’s best interpreted as a small variation on the long-standing J-pop sound. It makes for one of the album’s best and most interesting tracks, but you can’t help but wonder if it’s just a little racist to pair Satomi’s vocals with those cutesy pan-Asian samples rather than almost anything else. Dominique Young Unique back on the microphone for the 70s disco-infused “Apollo Throwdown”, a nice track with a decent hook but otherwise up to expectations for the band rather than rising above them. 50s girl-group pop is what “Ready to Go Steady” has to offer, and yet again it’s a reasonable facsimile for the real thing, with sugar-sweet and innocent vocals courtesy of Lispector along with a really memorable chorus. The marching band horns return, this time mixed with a touch of xylophone for the instrumental “Bust-Out Brigade”, perhaps the most pointless and ineffective track on the entire album. It basically feels like a repeat of “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.” but without the vocals. Before Best Coast became the toast of indie town, Bethany Cosentino contributed vocals to the song “Buy Nothing Day”, a track that just might be the most straightforward and mainstream thing The Go! Team have ever been a part of. Were Cosentino not singing here, this is the type of song you can absolutely imagine a female pop star armed with a guitar to reach the Top 40 charts courtesy of a big fat record label push. As it stands, the song may deserve to be massively popular but most likely will just stay confined to the indie circles where it deserves every bit of acclaim it gets. We may be only one month into 2011, but count on “Buy Nothing Day” to score some serious points when it comes to counting down the year’s best songs. Lo-fi 80s synth pop meets 70s soft rock courtesy of the short instrumental “Super Triangle”, one of the quieter and more secretly delightful moments on the record. Lush and scenic American majesty is at the heart of “Yosemite Theme”, a track that with its harmonica, horns and slight disco feel could very well have served as a theme song to a 70s TV comedy about park rangers. The London African Gospel Choir provides some interesting spice to “The Running Range”, and in fact without them the song would just be another groove-tastic bit of average fun for The Go! Team. Before closing things out, there’s one last genuine delight on “Rolling Blackouts”, and it comes courtesy of the title track. It’s a scuzzy lo-fi track that dabbles just a little bit in 90s Breeders-style female-fronted rock and roll. There are even hints of shoegaze too, and it’s again one of the more exciting and easy-to-digest songs on the album. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that the band can tackle something more modern than having to primarily stick with recycling old samples from the 60s and 70s.
It’s almost ironic that “Rolling Blackouts” the album excels when The Go! Team sound the least like themselves, foregoing samples for the sake of live instruments and pulling less of a throwback sound for something more modern and less gimmicky. At the very least, it brings some sense of evolution to the project, which would otherwise be completely ringing stale and a bit hackneyed by now. It’s been 7 years since The Go! Team first wowed us, and in order for them to continue to do so, you can’t keep relying on old habits. One thing that Parton continues to not fully understand is that not everything needs to be mixed at an equal volume level. That was the problem when he started to feature guest vocalists on “Proof of Youth” and it still hasn’t been corrected for the most part. The melody is important, yes, and all the whiz-bang instruments and samples may be impressive, but sometimes the vocals just need to shine above all others. It can mean the difference between a good pop song and a great one. Thankfully, even with some of the vocals occasionally covered up by various instruments, there’s a handful of shining moments that turn “Rolling Blackouts” into something better than it has any right to be. Not only that, but the majority of these songs remain irrepressably fun – to the point where you can’t look down on them too much. So this album is generally a good time, despite a number of questionable choices. Hopefully next time around Parton and the collection of lovely people he calls bandmates will continue to move in a better direction. If that doesn’t happen, most of us might just tire of the schtick and ask The Go! Team to just stop.
Click through the jump to stream the entire album!