The Go! Team Semicircle

[Memphis Industries; 2018]

Styles: schoolyard fuzz, cut-up pop
Others: The Avalanches, Sleigh Bells, the Detroit Youth Choir

For a kid from Brighton, Ian Parton has built a surprisingly tasteful career from a distinctly postmodern lucky dip: cheerleader rap, brass blowouts, indie-pop nod-outs, 1960s girl-group melodies. If you’re familiar with the band at all, you’ll know that The Go! Team essentially make the same record every three years, with the only difference being the rotating cast that add color and flavor to the same essential recipe. Their latest excursion is only unique in the sense that it unites each end of the rainbow: its touchstones are the scuzzy charm of debut Thunder, Lightning, Strike and the blissed-out exaltations of 2015’s The Scene Between. The latter was practically a solo record, but even with Ninja and original guitarist Sam Cook returning to the fold, Semicircle proves to be yet another mixture of cute homages and recycled pastiche.

The best Go! Team moments have always arrived courtesy of a white-hot burst of melody emerging from the fuzz, and when they nail it, it’s still irresistible. “Chain Link Fence” is another gorgeous entry into their canon of bittersweet pop, marrying the past’s unspoken sadness (“Never looking behind us/ Nothing here to remind us”) to bright, dewy-eyed optimism for the future (“There’s somewhere here to belong/ There’s something here to believe in”). Across swathes of the record, in fact, Parton and team do their damnedest to alchemize hope out of despair and frequently succeed, with both “Semicircle Song” and closer “Getting Back Up” ending up as vintage, brass-powered air-punchers. It feels a lot like the loud, joyful terror of being alive.

In the gaps between, the group is still prone to predictable bouts of noise. “All The Way Live” is so Go!-Team-by-numbers that it borders on parody — lines like “I’m rapping to you, on the microphone!” pitch for old-school but land with a clunk — which is distressing territory for a band whose DNA is already so reliant on third-generation samples and nostalgia. “She’s Got Guns” opens with promise, a refreshingly undistorted Ninja rapping over a funk track that at least channels a past the band has pillaged less relentlessly; but exactly one minute in, the song dissolves into another Thunder, Lightning, Strike rehash. At one point, the listener hears nothing but eight seconds of a ping-pong game being quietly played in the background, which would be cuter if it weren’t such an apt metaphor for the tedium of listening to someone else’s idea of kooky, ironic fun.

It’s been suggested elsewhere that Parton and co. should be addressing the UK’s political climate, and frankly, I can’t think of anything worse. Living through an age of Conservative-led austerity has rendered such thoroughly immoderate pleasures invaluable, and while it’s great to have artists speak up about those issues, it’s also a blessed relief to sing and dance on the weekends without always signalling recourse to the benefits of a Keynesian economic model. Despite its many retreads, Semicircle is still occasionally enjoyable, and that it manages to exist without a modicum of urgency or intellectual rigor is okay with me.

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