September 14, 2007

When the Go! Team emerged in late 2004, it finally became clear what the Avalanches had been doing for the last half decade: taking gravity bong rips, staying up all night eating Lucky Charms, and watching Season 1 of “ChiPs” and “Magnum P.I.” At least, that was the impression you got from their debut, Thunder, Lightning Strike, a sugary concoction of ‘80s cop show themes, pre-Run DMC hip-hop, and the occasional Sonic Youth guitar jag. And like the concept of getting stoned, ingesting ungodly amounts of glucose, and battling sleep to find out whether Ponch and John would nab the bad-guys and get the girl, Thunder was pretty awesome, but certainly not the sort of thing you figured to be fucking with on the regular.

But the debut aged strikingly well, with repeated listens revealing a surprising emotional resonance beneath its glazed patina of pastiche. That’s because despite what the Go! Team’s fluorescent pep rally live set might imply, Thunder was really the brain-child of a former archeology documentary filmmaker named Ian Parton recording in a bedroom in Brighton with a bunch of crappy ’80s sound equipment and an Atari, sampling everything from Wild Style to Clash documentaries to the Supremes. It was the rare record that felt out of its time but very much of it, devoid of irony, sonically inventive yet philosophically anachronistic.

Thunder managed to be a minor sensation, ultimately getting Barton and his Benetton band a whole lot of critical acclaim, licensing opportunities, and a deal with Sub Pop. Even Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV, private investigator, would’ve approved. So it’s understandable that on round #2, Parton and company would follow the Room on Fire/Antics approach and drop a short sophomore effort that further refines their singular aesthetic.

Never Trust A Man With a Mustache

Of course, there are differences between the two records, most dramatically in the sequel’s use of vocals. Whereas large swaths of Thunder was devoted to moody instrumentals, Proof of Youth bears the effect of Ninja’s increasingly prominent role within the band; something that works great in the live setting, but not so much on wax, as her rhymes seem solely from the “On and On to the Break of Dawn” school of lyricism. That said, the record’s flow isn’t hampered much: her old-school raps fit perfectly with the group’s retro vibe. Besides, nearly all the record’s vocals are drowned in a whirling haze of noise, a production technique that yields perhaps the first good Chuck D song since the title track from the He Got Game soundtrack.

The record is almost relentlessly upbeat, as though fame has gotten to Parton’s head, but instead of wanting to do normal rock star things like buying $1,000 bottles of booze to go with their $1,000 hookers, all he wants to do is rent out Rockefeller Center, invite Mike Post, Kim Gordon, and a bunch of girls playing Double Dutch on the corner and have them ice skate while Terminator X DJ’s. It’s certainly a spectacle, but not much more.

Proof of Youth is a satisfying sophomore effort, but its inability to sonically expand beyond its predecessor leaves one wondering whether album #3 will be of the ho-hum First Impressions of Earth/Our Love to Admire variety. It’s sort of like eating your second consecutive bowl of Lucky Charms. Pretty good, but a little more saccharine than you remember the first go-round being, with the accompanying sugar rush a little more dizzying and a little less pleasant. He might want to switch to Frosted Flakes next time.


MP3: The Go Team-“Grip It Like a Vice”

MP3: The Go Team-“Huddle Formation” (RJD2 Remix)

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