I definitely count myself among the ranks of those that found the Go! Team’s sophomore album, Proof of Youth, underwhelming. By adding the live performance’s full band element and bringing Ninja on as full-time member, the band seemed to sacrifice a little bit of their charm. What seemed really neat as a sample-based sound didn’t translate as well to my ears with a bunch of real people doing it. Suddenly, I felt like I was on the side of the guys that called Thunder, Lightning, Strike‘s hodgepodge of double dutch vocals, harmonica and speedy ’50s pop drum samples mere gimmick.
But the group seems to have worked out the kinks on Rolling Blackouts, utilizing the opportunities of a band and full-time vocalists to expand upon their sound in a few different ways. The production has also improved, giving everything a more rustic sound that allows plenty of elements to come off as samples anyway. The roaring opener “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.” displays an instrumental that just wouldn’t have been possible in a sample-based format, as the band twists the song’s core elements three or four different ways while Ninja double dutches her way across the results. It also showcases a harder edge than the group is used to, though that’s not really a sign for the album as a whole.
At times, specifically “Apollo Throwdown” and “Super Triangle”, it can be pretty easy to convince yourself you’ve stumbled onto a collection of unearthed Thunder, Lightning, Strike sessions. The latter in particular is a highlight for me with its harmonica lead and airy atmosphere; it’s a real shame it’s also the shortest track at less than two minutes. But the real interesting moments on the album, though, are songs like “Buy Nothing Day”, “Secretary Song” and “Ready to Go Steady”. The latter in particular sounds as much like a Camera Obscura track than Go! Team with its slightly twee take on ’60s girl group dynamics, while “Buy Nothing Day” emulates ’90s lady rockers. “Secretary Song”, meanwhile, doesn’t feel terribly far off from the more accessible side of art rockers Deerhoof.
Whether you felt the Go! Team took a step back with Proof of Youth or not, Rolling Blackouts as an album delivers on the band’s premise more successfully thanks to this variety. No longer does it feel so much like a large covers band trying to pull off Go! Team aesthetics. When the band breaks out its patented chase scene-style instrumentals like “Bust-Out Brigade” it works thanks to the strong brass playing, which can be found throughout the album, and when the band goes into more of a pop direction they feel much more confident with the experiment. It’s obvious at this point Gareth Parton captured lightning in a bottle with his debut, but the constant touring grind has created quite a powerful band out of his pet project, one that should be able to keep cranking out this unique sound for years to come.