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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Go! Team- Rolling Blackouts: A-

It should be no surprise to those familiar with the sound of UK indie electronicists, The Go! Team, that their third album, Rolling Blackouts, does little to diverge from the sound they established with their debut, 2004’s Thunder, Lightning Strike. The group still sounds like the best high school pep band you could ever hope for, with the zeal of the group’s many singers ceaseless across the album’s forty minutes. It’s almost redundant to say that they sound like blacksploitation-era funk and giddy pop punk, because of how consistent that sound’s been with them over the years, but I want do so to make sure that it’s taken note of that that sound can be applied to every song on Rolling Blackouts. But consistency does not an excellent album make. What makes Rolling Blackouts exceedingly enjoyable is that The Go! Team manage to dig into the elements that have made them distinct and enrich them to create an album that seems like a subtle but logical next step in their musical career.

With Rolling Blackouts, The Go! Team makes the right decision to give their sound depth and variance. All of Rolling Blackouts is energetic and vibrant, but each of its tracks conveys a different mood. Songs like “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.” and “Back Like 8 Track” are very much indebted to their seven-year-old style, but tracks like “The Running Range” and “Secretary Song” add a slightly slower dynamic while still maintaining that glassy-eyed aesthetic. “Apollo Throwdown” is also a traditional Go! Team gem, but its beat is buoyed by harps and a swooning orchestra, tempering the song and giving it a more mature sensibility. The ready-for-the-marching-band instrumental, “Bust-Out Brigade”, builds with the ardor of RJD2’s “Let There Be Horns” and the chorus of “Ready To Go Steady” recalls the emotional succinctness of Shonen Knife’s Japanese pop.

The two best songs of Rolling Blackouts are the Bethany Cosentino (of Best Coast fame) collaboration, “Buy Nothing Day”, and the mostly instrumental “Yosemite Theme”. While the former aligns itself with that Go! Team sound, the latter is the most radical distillation of the group’s newfound richness. Beginning with a saintly horn line and lightly picked guitar, the track weaves in instruments new to the Go! Team pallet like banjo and harmonica into something that actually sounds like the soundtrack to a kickass Yosemite Park documentary. With the mixture of these elements and the blasting percussion characteristic of every track on Rolling Blackouts, I am reminded of Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown, a film that, for me, turned the wilderness into something not just pretty, but cool and fun.

“Buy Nothing Day” should not be underestimated, though, because it features Rolling Blackouts’s best melodies. Cosentino’s voice, which has already proven itself formidable on her own debut, fits in well with The Go! Team’s vastly detailed production flourishes. It’s Rolling Blackout’s most spare track, with only orchestration added to the standard guitar/drums/bass combination of most rock bands, and is all the better for it.

The success of “Buy Nothing Day” is representative of the success of all of Rolling Blackouts. Some may see the group’s choice to tone down their bombast as a watering down of what makes them good, but I see it as a conscious realization by the group that they cannot keep releasing the same album year after year. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see people who enjoyed Thunder, Lightning Strike abhorring Rolling Blackouts, as its changes are not drastic or immediately apparent. What Rolling Blackouts proves is that a group that simply digs deeper into what they’re good at can be just as rewarding as a radical change or a stubborn repetition.


Telekinesis - 12 Desperate Straight Lines: B+

The focal point of Telekinesis’s second album is not auteur Michael Benjamin Lerner’s voice, lyrics, guitar-playing or even songwriting. What makes 12 Desperate Lines a supremely listenable album despite the fact that it is, essentially, an album of indie pop retreads in the vein of Fountains of Wayne is the bass. Within the album’s first thirty seconds, its presence is made obvious when a propulsive if not virtuosic bassline forces Lerner’s voice and guitar strums to the backseat in the album opener, “You Turn Clear in the Sun”. Throughout, the bass of 12 Desperate Lines keeps things interesting and flowing at a brisk pace. Its authority over the mix can range from the supportive (“I Got You”) to the decorative (“Fever Chill”) to the ubiquitous (album highlights “I Cannot Love You” and “Please Ask For Help”). It’s an essential aspect of 12 Desperate Straight Lines that, from time to time, lifts the craft of entire songs above the mire of monotony.

The only other notable aspect of 12 Desperate Lines is Lerner’s lyrical turn in “You Turn Clear in the Sun”, which takes a “turn the other cheek” attitude to a breakup song. With simple and concise diction, Lerner makes his ruminations sound both cute and revelatory. “I could sit and wonder/’Bout where I went wrong/Or I can go out on Friday/And try to have fun”, he muses over light percussion and that rich bass. It ‘s a naively simple mindset to express in a song, but one that I cannot say I’ve heard on any record in recent memory. Lerner spends the song killing that estranged ex with kindness (hoping her next lover treats her right, writing down the fond memories they had together), until the listener is unquestionably on his side when he inquires to that former lover, “Now was it you or was it me?”.

Other than that, 12 Desperate Lines’s bass presence is the best thing it’s got going for it. In that regard, it’s surprisingly unique, but I wouldn’t blame you if you avoided it all but “You Turn Clear In The Sun”.