Midway through a podcast interview late last year, the Go! Team mastermind Ian Parton raised a tantalizing counterfactual. What if the groundswell around the collage-pop project’s brilliant debut album, 2004’s Thunder, Lightning, Strike, had been a bit less deafening? “It happened too quickly,” Parton said of the Go! Team’s initial flush of success. Noting that there will be a “a certain contingent” for whom the UK six-piece will always be associated with the era of mp3 blogs and Iraq War protests, he added, “I prefer to be a slow-burn band.”
Hell, I’ll admit it: It’s not easy for me to separate the Go! Team from fond memories of listening to their debut as a newbie critic for this website (thankfully, my Muppet-themed review wasn’t the one we ran), or from tales of neighborhood kids joining the band onstage during the 2005 incarnation of what is now Pitchfork Music Festival. But Parton may have belatedly gotten his wish, as the Go! Team’s next several solid-to-great albums generally received more muted praise, leaving room for listeners to find the group at their own pace. Whether crossing paths with Public Enemy or Best Coast, hunkering down as a solo act or getting the band back together, the Go! Team demonstrated a remarkably consistent vision. Their sixth album, Get Up Sequences Part One, completed as Parton was battling the debilitating auditory effects of Ménière’s disease, is another intermittently thrilling block party from a utopia where time and genre collapse.
The Go! Team’s signature admixture of old-school raps, car-chase horns, noise-rock guitar, Motown hooks, Sesame Street positivity, and relentless drum barrages may no longer be novel, but it can still be pretty damn charming. London rapper Ninja (real name: Nkechi Ka Egenamba) has long been the energetic focal point of the Go! Team’s live performances, and her main showcase here, “Pow,” is a sunshine-funk romp that earns its lyrical nods to James Brown. Opener “Let the Seasons” serves as a fine reintroduction to a universe where shoegaze, electro, and ’80s TV action themes coexist with a spirit of twee-pop whimsy.
In fact, the farther Parton ranges in search of new elements, the more it all ends up sounding like the same old Go! Team. The Detroit Youth Choir lent a giddy irrepressibility to 2018’s Semicircle, and the choir’s former member Indigo Yaj shouts out “the DYC” here on “Cookie Scene,” but the song’s flute-centric jauntiness would’ve made just as much sense back when blogs were discovering the Boy Least Likely To and Architecture in Helsinki. Along those same lines, “A Bee Without Its Sting” has a subtle protest message and endearing vocals by two more Detroit teenagers, Jessie Miller and Rian Woods, but its peppy Northern soul, with a theremin-like wobble, wouldn’t have been out of place in an iPod commercial.
Reminding a geriatric-millennial music journalist of favorite recordings from their misspent early twenties is No Bad Thing, of course, and it’s exciting how much potential best-of material the Go! Team have surreptitiously built up over the years. Finale “World Remember Me Now,” which features members of the Kansas City Girls Choir and extends Semicircle’s love affair with calypso, is a celebration of everyday life that elevates pouring orange juice and popping toast into a transcendent ideal. Another calypso-tinged track, “We Do It But Never Know Why,” with vocal duties shared between Indigo Yaj and the Go! Team singer-guitarist Niadzi Muzira, sounds like instant mixtape fodder (“Say the word and we’ll never be lonely,” Muzira lilts).
One small but perceptible step backward is in the wordless tracks. Thunder, Lighting, Strike instrumental “Junior Kickstart” was a self-contained journey that still sounds like nothing much else: Think Deerhoof reinventing the theme from Hawaii Five-0, maybe? On Get Up Sequences Part One, the dreamy harmonica of “A Memo for Maceo” or queasy organ of “Freedom Now” mostly leave me wondering why an album of only 10 songs needs three lyric-free interludes.
As much as Parton may want the Go! Team to be judged apart from historical context, the project’s style arose out of a very specific cultural moment. As discussed in the podcast interview last year, Parton honed his “channel hopping” approach at a time when mix-and-match production was yielding sample-based touchstones like De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, and the Avalanches’ Since I Left You—and right before mash-up artists like 2ManyDJs and Girl Talk knocked down the walls between musical styles for good. But the notion of genre has diminished potency today. And plenty of mysterious magpies have followed in the Go! Team’s footsteps. It turns out that being a savvy curator of sounds, by itself, typically falls short. What’s really needed is enough sense of purpose to give these disparate sounds meaning, to make us feel them. Like “A Bee Without Its Sting,” Get Up Sequences Part One is often sweet, but it only rarely breaks the skin.
Buy: Rough Trade
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