With heavier rock influence and toned-down electronic methodology, The Scene Between represents the Go! Team's greatest deviation from their original template yet.
If you wanted novel, irreverent, genre-defying indie pop at any point during the last decade, chances are you crossed paths with the Go! Team once or twice. Before the noisy, sample-based melodics of Sleigh Bells and after the avant-garde plunderphonic elegance of the Avalanches, the Go! Team commanded the burgeoning indie dance-rock scene with explosive, animated music derived from the hard rhythms of rap, the straightforward jubilance of pop and the blunt immediacy of lo-fi rock. Today the sound is mere convention; in 2004, it was prophetic.
But after three albums of double Dutch anthems and blustery hip-hop beats, the band’s fourth record, The Scene Between, represents their greatest deviation from their original template yet. Out go the schoolyard chants, bellowing horns and athletic melodies, and in their place come jangle guitars, rock beats and other indie pop conventions more Ariel Pink than Avalanches. The sound shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows that with each subsequent album, frontman Ian Parton has toned down his sample-based songwriting and expanded the live instrumentation for a more natural and readily identifiable sound. Still, it’s an undeniably strange step for a band that once helped remove indie pop from the bland haze of trite sunshine melodies and rock traditionalism to mire in that uninspiring conservatism themselves. It seems that despite years of multi-genre alchemy, the Go! Team have finally settled into rock mediocrity.
It probably doesn’t seem fair. After facing near-universal criticism that the group were just remaking the same album again and again, Parton (who wrote, produced, and performed the record solo) no doubt thought it best to take the band in a new direction. But there’s a question that loyal fans are forced to ask themselves with The Scene Between: is it really a new direction to simply push harder in the trajectory they’ve been going for a decade? The Scene Between, despite shades of the band’s former successes and the fact that they’re going out on a limb, can’t help but feel like a step backward for a once progressive indie band.
“What Do You Say?” and “The Scene Between” open the record with joyful melodies and crushing rock beats, high energy and infectious enough to start everything on the right foot. Then there are tracks like “Blowtorch”, which just feels like a rehash of the more catchy early songs, and “Reason to Destroy”, which closes the album on the same mid-tempo and nostalgic glaze with which it started. “Waking the Jetstream” and “Did You Know?”, with their bright guitar strumming and somber vocals, are the most mild, poignant songs the band has ever created, but they also lack depth without the full instrumentation of the other songs. The mellower cuts are an interesting change for a band known for the relentless pace of their albums, but when they offer so little nuance and nothing of the band’s bold spirit, they come off a bit hollow.
What Parton does keep, for better or worse, is the overcompressed lo-fi production from the first three records. It can’t help but suck the life from less active tracks like “Waking the Jetstream”, but it retains its fuzzy charms on songs with fuller or more upbeat inclinations like the near-shoegaze “Her Last Wave” and pop highlight “Catch Me on the Rebound”. Unfortunately, a lack of sonic depth means most songs bleed helplessly together, exacerbated by the lack of big set piece beats and hooks. There’s nothing as menacing or groovy as Thunder, Lightning, Strike’s “The Power is On” and nothing as endlessly catchy as Rolling Blackouts’ “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.” to counter the messy mixes.
If the Go! Team’s first three records felt a bit like mainlining sugar water, The Scene Between, with its narrower palate and less daring adventurism, is even more sticky sweet. Note that the first sound heard on the album is a soda can being cracked open, followed by the bubbly sizzle of it being poured out. It’s good music for summer barbecues and bonfires, assuming the attendees have an already healthy appreciation for the intricacies of heavily compressed lo-fi audio production and obnoxiously sunny melodies. But then again, if you’re looking for party music, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, Proof of Youth and Rolling Blackouts, each more energetic than the last, are all probably more suitable choices. Props to Parton for trying something different, but maybe next time he could aim for something a little less orthodox; that’s the Go! Team’s style, after all.