For The Go! Team, their music has always been about the groove. They make tracks chock full of rhythms and melodies unlike anyone else in the business. A combination of hypnotic keys, drum blasts, horns, and carefully used samples build into songs that shouldn’t work by any sense of logic, yet they do anyway. Rolling Blackouts, their third full-length album, isn’t a revolutionary change for the band but it does show a sense of growth that deepens their trademark sound.
Nearly every one of the 13 tracks on this LP is similar to a direct shot of adrenaline into your veins. The energy doesn’t just come from the volume level (this is a loud album), but it’s also due to how infectious everything is. The horns bring you back to the days of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” realizing just how underused those instruments are in rock. The keyboards perk your ears up with a variety of effects that almost never repeat. All your focus is on the beat, instead of the singing. In this case, the vocals become another instrument to cut up, layer, remix, and add to the rhythm. Even though Ninja is the singer, it’s hard to tell whether you hear her, one of the many guest stars, or an unknown sample. It’s the way the music bounces all over the place that keeps you guessing and keeps you listening.
Half of Rolling Blackouts is full of abrasive tracks that slam into you with so many different ideas, it’s impossible to focus on a single part of it. Instead, think of it as an omelet stuffed with ingredients. You could try to break it down and enjoy each part separately or you can simply have it all together, the way it was meant to be eaten. The first of these is the opener, “T.O.R.N.A.D.O,” an incredibly appropriate title. Like a tornado, it’s fast, chaotic, and you’ll be thinking about it even after it ends. The brass section sounds like it’s falling off a cliff, playing the whole way down. Ninja’s vocals burn through verse after verse almost faster than you can follow and the whole thing sounds like the sky is falling. But once you settle into it, a strong, infectious rhythm forms out of the riotous mix of instruments. “Bust-Out Brigade” uses dynamite horns to create the feel of a 70’s TV theme, complete with zoom-ins and freeze frames. Children’s voices and chiming bells will bring you back to schoolyard, if the clanging drums don’t make you want to jump around in the first place. “Back Like 8 Track” is full of brass crescendos and incredibly funky keys, providing great support for Ninja’s faster-than-light vocals.
On the other hand, this record contains some of the poppiest (and best) moments of the Go! Team’s career. Melodic patterns that sound like they’d fit among early rock and R&B are propelled to the present by unique arrangements and modern effects. The strongest of these is “Buy Nothing Day,” featuring none other than everyone’s favorite throwback musician, Bethany Cosentino. The Best Coast frontwoman fits perfectly among the sunny guitars, uplifting vocals, strong but straightforward drums, and laid-back lyrics. Lines like Don’t plan at all//’Cause making it up is so natural would have fit perfectly on Crazy for You. Her vocals slide their way into the tracklist effortlessly and without sounding forced. “Secretary Song” fits the melodic bill as well, sounding like a cross between early 60s and Japanese pop as Ninja’s smooth vocals glide over a sharp solo. “Voice Yr Choice” (Whats up with misspelling yr? Im looking at you, LCD Soundsytem) features high-pitched spaceship keys and a call-response between verses and shouts of “yeah.” All these songs feature distinctive harmonies and musicality that aren’t simple, but far more straightforward than tracks like “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.”
Unfortunately, some filler segments in the second half drag the LP down a little. The four-minute “Yosemite Theme” introduces some cool ideas with rickety guitars and a few buzzy effects, but the arrangement quickly becomes stale. “Lazy Poltergeist,” a short interlude that strips back to lovely patterns on the keys, isn’t bad on its own but works horribly alongside the following title track. When listening to an almost classical piano, the last thing you want to hear next is a screeching guitar that bleeds into a wall of reverb. Knocking out at least two of these songs would have created a much tighter album.
Rolling Blackouts doesn’t move away from what the Go! Team is known for. Instead, this is a snapshot of a band both honing their skills and creating a fun piece of music. While it falls apart a little towards the end, the group’s third effort is definitely worth checking out. With highlights full of riotous rhythms and groovy melodies, there’s something here for any music fan to love.