Thunder, Lightning, Strike was an apt title for The Go! Team’s now classic debut album. It seemingly came out of nowhere and ended up being one of 2004’s most exciting releases. Despite the well-deserved acclaim (including a Mercury nomination), it was a slow-burning and modest success. In the years since, the band have continued to release albums with less fanfare and commercial success each time. Sadly, this meant their third album (and secretly their best), 2011’s Rolling Blackouts wasn’t as big as it should have been. On 2015’s follow-up, The Scene Between, a lot of the usual elements were there, but something was missing. For once, the muted reaction seemed fair.
An easy explanation for the disappointment of The Scene Between would be Parton’s decision to put the record together himself — producing and playing everything. It was the same lo-fi/homemade feel of Thunder, Lightning, Strike, which was a studio project. The ideas just weren’t as fresh. For their fifth album, Semicircle, Parton has put together a band featuring a mix of new and old Go! Team members (including the band’s secret weapon, rapper/singer Ninja) that gives the album a fuller sound. The energy and creativity is back, making this the year’s first pleasant surprise.
It’s business as usual on ‘Mayday’, which announces itself with huge percussion, brass, cheerleading chants and a cool guitar line running through it. The use of morse code as part of the rhythm is an inspired move that almost stops it from being too Go! Team-by-numbers. ‘Chain Link Fence’ is the first sign that they’re not just sticking to their tested formula. The lush psychedelica brings back those early comparisons to The Avalanches and it wouldn’t sound out of place on Wildflower. Ninja repeats, “there’s somewhere here to belong, there’s something here to believe in”. It’s a warm and touching sentiment full of their trademark optimism. It’s hard to resist.
The Go! Team have used brass throughout their career (‘Bust Out Brigade’, ‘Junior Kickstart’, ‘Back Like An Eight Track’, ‘Titanic Vandalism’). It’s prominent on last October’s single, ‘Semicircle Song’. The marching band feel offers a vibrant celebration, brimming with charm and personality. ‘All The Way Live’ goes off in many directions, with Ninja’s vocal brilliantly interplaying with the hyperactive melody and funky bass line. The guitars sound gritty before chiming bells appear in the middle section. The band sound firmly in control, which is impressive with so much going on.
Semicircle is a typically varied Go! Team release. ‘Chico’s Radical Decade’ is a swirling instrumental that taps into that same hazy nostalgia as previous instrumentals like, ‘My World’, ‘Everyone’s a V.I.P.’ and ‘Super Triangle’. ‘If There’s One Thing You Know’ reaches the same rush as career highlights, ‘Bottle Rocket’ and ‘Buy Anything Day’. The catchy steel drums are mixed beautifully with a carefree vocal, making this an obvious single choice. There are hip-hop influences on the feisty, ‘She’s Got Guns’. ‘Tangerine/Satsuma/Clementine’ is a short interlude that’s My Bloody Valentine meets 60s baroque pop. It helps make Semicircle their most trippy record, especially in the second half.
As ‘Getting Back Up’ triumphantly closes Semicircle, it’s clear that Parton’s new cast was a good move. You can hear a renewed sense of energy throughout. At the same time, it’s easy to take an album like this for granted because at its core, Semicircle is a traditional Go! Team record. It’s full of the usual colourful textures that made them so refreshing, mixed with that hint of sadness that often underlies their sound. Hopefully people are open to letting this band back into their lives, because this is 40 minutes of blissful escapism. And that’s something in which they’ve always excelled.
Semicircle is released on 19th January through Memphis Industries.