Under the lights of indie’s current, childhood-obsessed wave, The Go! Team looks almost sagacious. Here was a band playing a hyper-nostalgic, cartoon-character pandemonium in the same year Arcade Fire were putting out Funeral. No band sounded like them, at least not for a while.
And in that sense they were destined for diminished returns, their appeal founded more on quirk and oddball accessibility rather than musical force. So it shouldn’t be taken as a surprise that according to organizer and songwriter Ian Parton, this will probably be the last Go! Team album, leaving behind a three-record arc that’s as fluffy as it is easy to revisit.
After all, The Go! Team does what The Go! Team does. Rolling Blackouts, like Proof Of Youth, sounds exactly like the conceptual framework of Thunder, Lightning, Strike! A jaunty, brightening listen that ranges from impossibly catchy to bewilderingly annoying. Its release seems to either serve the hypothetical demographic of ‘huge Go! Team fans’, to fill out a label contract, or just to clear out a few song ideas before calling it a career. The result is an inessential but never mediocre record, one that can’t help but feel like yet another footnote on a debut that exhausted all the band’s ideas in one swing.
Rolling Blackouts encompasses the Team’s usual trademarks; slower, love-bitten sing-songs, and marching band explosions – and occasionally they groove into some wonderful tunes. The slippery hip-hop of opener T.O.R.N.A.D.O. makes a very good first impression, a loving ode to the chanting, hard-funk roots of rap. Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino guests on Buy Nothing Day, and her throaty vocals go quite well with the jittery movements of the composition. But then there’s plenty that never transcends the kitsch, Ninja has never been a great rapper but she obligatorily gets ‘her songs’ where the delirious fun of the instrumentation is let up to focus on her garden-variety flow.
The back quarter of the record essentially turns into one elongated jam; Yosemite’s Theme sounds like a truncated, lesser version of the burgundy-skied Everyone’s a V.I.P. to Someone. The Running Range follows in exceedingly unremarkable fashion, and we’re eventually wrapped up with Back Like 8 Track; a song, down to its irreverently referential title, that sums up everything The Go! Team has accomplished thus far, cheerleader shouts and all. It’s a good way to go out, if this is truly the end for the band.
Rolling Blackouts’ essential problem is that The Go! Team has not found one meaningful way to evolve their sound past their critical-darling debut. That works for a sophomore record, as Proof Of Youth somewhat represents the exuberant highs of the band, but three records deep the sheen has worn off. It’s not as though they’ve lost their charm; the songs, while sticking to an incredibly specific formula, still work by and large, but it’s such a frustratingly safe effort it’s hard not to criticize them. The Go! Team already exists in a limited scope, and if this is truly where their legacy lies, there’s no better time to call it quits.