One of my favorite shows growing up was Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock. Quirkier than Sesame Street, the program followed the lives of amazing underground creatures living within a literal hole in the wall. “Dance your cares away,” they sang every episode, “worries for another day.” Hardly Dylan-esque, but gloriously uplifting nevertheless for a mind that had yet to discover irony — and grown-ups could dig it, too. Thunder, Lightning, Strike, the ridiculously innovative debut by the Go! Team, conjures up all the wide-eyed fun and joyful innocence of the finest children’s television.
With a goofy moniker straight out of Speed Racer, this British sextet have more to teach children and the childlike than Mr. Rogers had sweaters. Since it’s important to share, two women split the ever-raucous drumming duties. Because counting is fun, the Go! Team start songs chanting “1, 2, 3, 4” as if it had never been done before. And of course, everybody’s special, so their music borrows liberally from an impossible pastiche of genres: Hawaii Five-O horns, Run-D.M.C. raps, Motown melodic deliciousness, fuzzy post-punk dissonance, electronic bleeps, Rocky anthemics, Le Tigre new wave. Everything is possible.
The Go! Team began as the bedroom project of Brighton’s Ian Parton. The single “Get It Together” was initially released on Pickled Egg. “Junior Kickstart” followed in 2003, and “The Power Is On” finally arrived this summer. If you have mad Google skillz, you can still find the classified Parton posted to find his M.C., a London woman known as Ninja, who hurls Licensed to Ill rhymes like her namesakes presumably throw stars. The ad captures the band’s sound as well as any self-important critic could: “The music is a mix between old skool hip-hop and northern soul and going for a dynamic feel like a double dutch team.”
Thunder, Lighting, Strike mostly recycles songs from the singles — but what songs! The album opens with a squeal of white noise like a plane descending. When it lands on “Panther Dash”, Parton’s rusty harmonica proclaims a potential ’70s TV theme over propulsive rock ‘n’ roll guitars. “Ladyflash” ventures into Bollywood, the Supremes, electronic bleeps, and Bacharach flutes. “Feelgood by Numbers” is Vince Guaraldi and Dave Brubeck banging away at the same time on an elementary school teacher’s piano. “Get It Together” opens with a ringing guitar that could build into an Interpol opus, but it’s soon joined by squishy drums, a recorder (!), referee’s whistles, and pure Jackson Five sunshine. “Junior Kickstart” could be the theme for an indie-rock spy movie, or better yet, a children’s indie-rock spy show (Square One TV offered “detective” segment “Mathnet”, so why the hell not?).
Several tracks are instrumental. Those with words apply the mold that Loveless set but few can fill, mixing vocals so low in the lo-fi clatter as to be largely incomprehensible. But the party-ready rhythm and summer’s day melodies rise above the ruckus. This is probably how infants hear music, overwhelmed by sensation and oblivious to language. What lyrical snippets emerge are no more complex than the jubilant cheers of the Fraggles, yet strangely affecting just the same: “We’re here to rock the microphone”, from “Ladyflash”, or “Come on, everybody, let’s rock this break” from personal favorite “Bottle Rocket”, a track that at one point lent the album its working title. The instrumentals see the band at their most edgy, from the brief, pure noise of “Air Raid GTR” to the brilliant closer, “Everyone’s a V.I.P. to Someone”, which starts off with “Everybody’s Talkin'” acoustic guitars and morphs into Air’s loungey “C’est Matin La” turned to 11.
For the past few years, if not longer, the most critically acclaimed bands have often sounded just like previous critical favorites. Joy Division? Gang of Four? Mid-1990s Radiohead? Zep, Bowie, even, uh, Queen? Chances are, the 21st century has spawned a group to help you relive concerts you were too young or too unhip to witness the first time around. The Go! Team are not that group. The only obvious antecedents are sample-based acts like the Avalanches or Rjd2, but that only goes to show how unusual the Go! Team are. While Thunder, Lightning, Strike does integrate some sampling and scratching alongside the rest of its expansive sonic palette, the Go! Team are fundamentally a live band, with all the raw energy that entails.
Yeah, I know, you’re all cynical and emotionless, because emo is so 1998 and you only dance to songs by good-looking Scottish scenesters. But if something deep inside you still remembers a warm feeling as fuzzy puppets danced beneath rabbit-ear antennae — a sense that whatever you could possibly imagine was OK, that loving and sharing and learning to count and singing silly songs were all intertwined — well, that part of you has found one of its favorite records this year.