Over twenty years ago, an album appeared called Thunder, Lightning, Strike. Primarily instrumental, except for what sounded like cheerleader routines, jump rope rhymes and the occasional rapid-fire rapping, it had a sound unlike anything else then. It was a fuzzy, goofy mix of 70’s T.V themes, blinking arcades and sweaty gymnasiums. It struck a deep chord with me and a lot of other people and was an out of nowhere loony “hit” of a sort.
And then to find out it was the creation of some white guy from Brighton, Ian Parton, was an even bigger surprise. It sounded like the guy had grown up with awkward me in the U.S. watching Schoolhouse Rock, Scooby-Doo and trying to act cool at high school basketball games.
Thunder, Lightning, Strike seemed like it would be a one-off lark. But, Mr. Parton had other ideas. The Go! Team just released this, its sixth studio album. Over the course of the last two decades, Parton has overseen a diverse six-person band, give or take, to play live and continue to expand on the quirky vision of that first album. Chief among these has been Ninja, expanding the vocal dimension of the band’s unique sound. The Go! Team makes feel good music and her ebullient singing and rapping is a key ingredient.
Parton has fairly recently been quoted as saying, “I still think of us as a cult band that people either get or don’t…We’re still on the edge and still being discovered, and people still feel like we’re personal to them if they do get into us. They don’t realize anyone else is into us.” This has been my experience. A close friend, who I never expected to like this band, described Thunder, Lightning, Strike as a great, lost instrumental Beastie Boys record. I never would have made that reference, but it made sense. To me The Go! Team sounds like the best Sesame Street soundtrack. Sometimes, as I listen to their songs, I imagine them being performed by Muppets: Janice on lead vocals, Rowlf the Dog on keys, Animal on drums. I would venture to guess that’s a highly personal response to the music. Hey, man, don’t judge; whatever gets you through the day.
If you like this band, and I very enthusiastically do, you will like Get Up Sequences Part Two. If you don’t like this band, it might be difficult for us to be friends. The album begins, in typically off beat style, with ‘Look Away, Look Away’ featuring guests Star Feminine Band, a group of girls, ages 10-17 from the West African country of Benin. The song is sung primarily in French. It begins with a crash and drums sounding like they are being played in a cavernous drainpipe a short distance away. The music could be a track from an impossibly cool vintage cartoon about rad girls foiling bad men. It’s a Go! Team song. This is followed by ‘Divebomb,’ in essence an earnest call to politically mobilize while jump-roping and making dorky fake shooting sounds.
The third song, ‘Getting to Know (All The Ways We’re Wrong For Each Other)’ is… I’m not going to soft peddle this: It’s a fucking triumph, a great song. What sounds like the most cheerful breakup song ever reveals a much deeper lament: ‘And yeah I know it’s a two way situation/’Cause I’m just not the kind you wanted in this nation.’ But, this poignant lyric is delivered as the band breaks down into a perfect Jackson 5 imitation. You can’t keep The Go! Team down.
American MC Nitty Scott appears on the rousing ‘Whammy-O,’ reminding me that The Go! Team was incorporating a marching band sound before Beyoncé did it (thrillingly) in ‘Homecoming.’ ‘But We Keep On Trying’ is the Platonic ideal of a The Go! Team song. If you are unfamiliar with the band, you could start there. If it doesn’t make you move and smile a little, I can’t help you.
The Go! Team was paradoxically ahead of its time with its retro sound. Velma now has her own reboot on HBO Max. ‘Poker Face’ finds Natasha Lyonne riffing on the seemingly endless number of ‘70’s crime shows. It is a perfect time for new fans to discover the “cult band” with the curious sound. Will they? I hope so. But, if not, I hope the band keeps plugging happily and groovily away. This band runs on a palpable joy and love of music.
Words by Rick Larson