This year has got off to a good start: bands like shame have launched terrific albums and are sparing no time getting into the popular consciousness. Their album, Songs of Praise, has been given a passionate overhaul by us and, following hotly, is The Go! Team’s LP, Semicircle.
I have been sending signals out to the musical cosmos since last Christmas – asking for some great albums to kick-start 2018. Jack White has announced a new album (and released fresh material) and it seems Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls is unleashing an album too – everything I could ever hope for! Aside from those epic rock records, my mind has been pining for an artist that takes music in a new direction and produces something genuinely deep and interesting. The Go! Team are a stunning Brighton six-piece who take the multiple colours and cultures of the city and fuse them in an exceptional blend – one that produces the headiest and most fruitful bounty. They mix indie-rock and garage with Bollywood snatches and chants, and some old-school hip-hop for good measure.
2015’s The Scene Between was well-received by critics and featured an eclectic array of guest artists – everyone from The London African Gospel Choir and Emily Reo helped make the album a year-defining treat. Whereas 2007’s Proof of Youth was sample-heavy, their 2015 variation was more natural in terms of the sounds it employed; it brought more outside artists to the plate, that’s for certain. It seems, like any great band, innovation and evolution are at the precipice of the creative consciousness. Those looking for the same gold-standard as their 2004 debut, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, might be hoping for their latest record to hit those dizzying heights – the subsequent three albums have not resonated quite as firmly.
The band have routinely released an album every three years – there was a four-year gap between Proof of Youth and Rolling Blackouts – so it’s a relief a The Go! Team record is finally here. The band have given interviews around the record but there has not been a huge build-up and campaign of drip-feeding singles/teasers to the fans. Tracks ‘Semicircle Song’ (with the Detroit Youth Choir adding vocal merriment), ‘All the Way Live’ and ‘Mayday’ have been released to the masses already, mind, scoring big reviews and impressing the current admirers. To me, they have incorporated the quality and dare of their debut and tied that to a more mature, grounded (for them) aesthetic – deftly managing to bond contemporary-adult with the playfulness of their earliest suggestions.
The singles already out there are, unsurprisingly, easy highlights. ‘Mayday’ is a festival-bright, explosive track that smiles with colour and twists: those who tune their radio to the ‘cool’ side of the dial will be familiar with the song. It marries Eastern vocals with hip-hop beats and Indian instruments and an endless drive with a chorus that threatens to obsess the mind for years. ‘Semicircle Song’ and its choir headiness is a bolder, more elephantine song that opens with marching horns, before descending into something more child-like and calm. The band throws in a mixture of sounds and genre – the ravenous appetite for genre a result of the band’s lead, Ian Parton, travelling to the American Midwest. But, as with all their albums, it doesn’t sound muddled or crowded. It all blends seamlessly and creates a stunning and wondrous brew. ‘Chico’s Radical Decade’ (love the title!) sounds like a TV theme from the 1950s. It’s cutesy and cheesy but has that air of nostalgia and the vintage. Horns come back in but, unlike ‘Semicircle Song’, they’re more refined and elegant. It is a piece – an instrumental suite, essentially – that offers some respite and chance to digest all that has come before.
‘All the Way Live’ is another boisterous and stomping song with thick beats and a lead female vocal – Ninja and Angela Won-Yin Mak tackle vocal chores for the band – but it is not quite as strong as ‘Mayday’. It builds up momentum and, just as you think it’s going to take off into the sky, it loses its fuel and demurs slightly. ‘Chain Link Fence’ – going back to the top-half of the album – is the band at their most controlled and focused. It is catchy and pure but, unlike other tracks, it’s one of the more conventional and straight-laced numbers. ‘Tangerine/Satsuma/Clementine’ (for those who can’t decide!) is a gutsy, kick-to-the-knackers song that matches grumbling, grunge guitars with eccentric electronics and a woozy aftertaste. It’s a vibrant genre-fuse; a major head-fuck that gives Semicircle a much-needed dose of the inexplicable. It is another instrumental (aside from some far-off vocals) track that is done with as soon as it begins.
‘Hey!’ – again back near the top – is a snarling, stomping rebel that has horns and avalanche-beats striding and strutting like a bad-ass mother-fucker. It is one of the best tracks on the album and one that reminds me of their debut. I mention it because as the final few tracks come to mind, I notice how far the band have come and how confident it all feels. ‘She’s Got Guns’ steps into hip-hop and rap more overtly than before with hints of Neneh Cherry during her ‘Buffalo Stance’ days, and ‘Getting Back Up’ is a finale that seems to unite ‘Mayday’ with ‘Semicircle Song’ in a grand showdown. It’s a joyous and party-ready song that turns up the sunshine and features hand-claps, serotonin-drenched vocals and enough spring to make the lowest of all feel the need to shout their worth from the rooftops. It ambitiously concludes Semicircle, an album that, fourteen years (yes!) after their debut, shows that there is still a lot of life left in the Brighton band!