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Album Review: The Go! Team – Rolling Blackouts [Memphis Industries]

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!

Buy “Rolling Blackouts” from Amazon

Album Review: Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil [Polyvinyl]

Some bands, particularly the ones that have been around for a really long time, have a tendency to fall by the wayside and draw less attention the more music they release. Okay, so maybe it’s not always less attention, but critical acclaim may be a more accurate word to describe it. You take one look at Spoon, who after last year’s “Transference” found themselves in a place where plenty of people loved their record but not quite enough to earn them a mention at year’s end. The method of thought by some was that Spoon have put out such consistently good albums over the span of several years that we’ve become jaded and less thrilled by it. In other words, Spoon could be as great as they’ve always been, but it’s easier to dismiss it merely as “Spoon being Spoon” and getting more excited over a debut record from some new hot-to-trot band. You’ve been married for 20 years, for some mysterious reason you’re still getting regular (great) sex, but when the young new neighbor tries to seduce you one night while your spouse is out of town, it can be tough to resist. All analogies and metaphors aside, the same concept can be applied to a band like Deerhoof. They’ve been putting out albums consistently since 1997, and their 10th studio effort comes out this week in the form of “Deerhoof vs. Evil”.

One of the things that makes Deerhoof so unique is their unpredictability. There is what you could call the “Deerhoof sound”, and the reason it’s labeled as such is because no other bands make music similar to it. Jagged guitar riffs, percussion that goes from calm to insane at the drop of a hat (or hi-hat), synths or electronic elements that pop up out of nowhere, and Satomi Matsuzaki’s strange vocal tics and lyrics. Experimental rock, to be sure, but over the last 16 or so years the band has grown into a consistency where it’s all you expect from them. The way they keep it interesting is by constantly second guessing and re-arranging themselves in new ways. “Deerhoof vs. Evil” very much continues in that tradition, and once again the result is something fun, funny, weird and remarkably pop-centric. Opening track “Qui Dorn, Només Somia” begins with electronic beats leading into a frantically picked electric guitar and kitchen sink percussion but quickly dives into a much slower, more carefully composed melody for the first verse. After a brief xylophone and acoustic guitar breakdown that might be called a chorus, the second verse comes back with a louder, more instrumentally complicated version of what it was the first time around. The layers continue to build and build in a strange angular direction before finally dropping out in an instant. The entire time Satomi anchors things down with a French language vocal where clearly it’s less about what’s being said and more about the way she’s singing it. At first blush, “Behold A Marvel In the Darkness” is almost a normal-sounding pop song for Deerhoof, with vivid acoustic guitars and very traditional percussion holding steady as a small dose of electric guitar and harpsichord-tuned keyboards shimmer lightly. The acoustic guitars are all but gone or shoved way back in the mix to make room for some power chords on the electric guitars, balanced out by a few in-between moments of only keyboard as Satomi innocently asks, “What is this thing called love?”. A fuzzed out looped bass sample, mixed with some equally fuzzy ZZ Top-esque electric guitars give “The Merry Barracks” a psychedelic, krautrock base. Never content to stay in one place for too long, the track goes upbeat pop towards the end before surrendering to electronic insanity that turns the last 40 seconds of the song into one of the wilder moments on the record. There’s some Spanish acoustic guitars and maracas that craft a gorgeous slow melody for “No One Asked to Dance”, and there’s a hint of romance in the air for the duration. Outside of the emergence of some bass and harpsichord though, everything stays remarkably charming from beginning to end and it’s nice to hear the band maintain that even keel for once.

Don’t kick yourself if you’ve never heard “Let’s Dance the Jet” before, even though it’s a cover. The band picked the instrumental off the soundtrack to an obscure Greek film and decided to try their own rendition of it. High pitched keyboards compete with distorted electric guitars for a thrilling minute and a half of back-and-forths that does feel like it could have been the backing music for an action-packed movie from the 60s or 70s. Speaking of action-packed, if the band is fighting evil as the title of the album suggests, “Super DUper Rescue Heads!” could very well serve as their theme song. Synths sparkle, the bass has a nice buzz to it, and there’s even some Nintendo-like electronic sound effects mixed in for added effect. “Hello, you lucky so-and-so,” Satomi sings with an implied wink and a smile, right before the electric guitars come in and break out a rousing chorus. “Must Fight Current” is interesting in how it blends more Spanish-influenced acoustic guitar with a very bossa nova melody and vocals. and “Secret Mobilization” gets all 1970s courtesy of some funky keyboards before exploding huge with some extremely heavy electric guitars. Between the acoustic guitars, handclaps and light keyboards, “I Did Crimes For You” is about the cheeriest and cutest song about illegal activity you’ll hear so far in 2011. When Satomi says “This is a stickup/smash the windows”, she does so with such innocence that it’s practically like having a a small child pointing a hand in the shape of a gun at you and demanding you reach for the sky. And closing out the record, “Almost Everyone, Almost Always” is a gorgeous synth-washed dreamscape that features just a couple small moments of offbeat percussion and even a touch of programmed violin. It’s just one great final example of how the band continues to evolve and incorporate new sounds into their already robust array of instruments.

After making such oddball and unique music for so many years and surviving to the point where they’re even doing relatively well these days, Deerhoof flex their muscles and show no signs of slowing down or holding back on “Deerhoof vs. Evil”. Their continued dedication towards changing things up While still satisfying long-time fans is admirable and highly interesting. To say that the band has stepped away from or at least reduced some of their most avant-garde tendencies isn’t really correct, mostly because no two of their records sound that much alike in the first place. Then again, such a perspective is all relative to the depth of knowledge you have of Deerhoof’s catalogue as well as your tolerance of off-key and experimental music. Most accurately, it could be said that “Deerhoof vs. Evil” does a great job at merging some of the band’s oldest and newest influences into something of a non-greatest hits album that also pushes in new directions. The 70s influence that permeates a handful of tracks on the record isn’t something they’ve really tried in earnest before, and it leads towards a fuller, more cinematic sound in many cases – particularly when compared with their last album “Offend Maggie”. The more liberal use of electronic and digital noises reaches a little farther back in their catalogue too. Much of it is thanks to guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Ed Rodriguez, who joined the band in time for their last record but wasn’t quite used to the best of his abilities. Well, the more time you spend with a person the more you learn about what their capable of, which is why Rodriguez’s presence is much more beneficial than it was two years ago. The band is better balanced and whipsmart as ever, even as they move into darker territory by occasionally implying that sometimes in order to properly fight evil, you need to get a little evil yourself. Those are the methods that comic book superheroes such as The Green Hornet and Batman have used to great success, and in a case of real-life art imitating fictional art, Deerhoof does the same with similar results.

Deerhoof – The Merry Barracks

Buy “Deerhoof vs. Evil” from Amazon

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