The Go! Team’s “Thunder, Lightning, Strike” opens, fittingly, with a bang. The echo of a faraway police siren on gritty city streets fades. Drumsticks click together six times, tap three quick beats on the drum, and then the song suddenly explodes at full force. A swell of trumpets blasts over the bass and drums as The Go! Team powers through opener “Panther Dash” — surely a new anthem for speeding down a busy avenue with the top down or running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (maybe Stallone will use it in Rocky VI).
This is the world according to the Go! Team. “Thunder, Lightning, Strike!” is a wonderful, playful, sample-heavy album, clearly the brighter, louder, younger sister to the Avalanches’ stunning 2001 classic “Since I Left You.” Unlike those laid-back Aussies, the British Go! Team simply can’t sit still. The result is an album nearly as beautiful and fifteen times more energetic.
The thirteen songs on “Thunder, Lightning, Strike” (with an average of less than three minutes per track) tell musical stories that inspire, even if the accompanying lyrics are unintelligible, thanks to the lo-fi aesthetic born of necessity. “The Power Is On” is insistent and synthesized, like a Le Tigre protest song without the Susan Sarandon samples, but tense like the synth track running through Van Halen’s “Right Now.” The song begins as a raucous call to arms, and then suggests an unknown and steadily approaching threat.
“Feelgood by Numbers,” one of the album’s best tracks, sounds like a New Pornographers song without A. C. Newman’s vocal track, and with the bass cranked. Or maybe a less creepy re-imagining of the Sesame Street pinball song that counts to twelve, driven by a musical fervor of boisterous yet ingenuous piano and maracas.
Elsewhere, samples of seventies soul, hip-hop, and synth-pop contribute to the album’s vitality. “Ladyflash” evokes both The Jackson 5 and an early Madonna, all the while backed by Motown strings, flute, and record scratches — it is an oddly extraordinary house-party.
The album’s best track, “We Just Won’t Be Defeated,” lives up to its title. A throbbing bass straight from classic Stax recordings anchors and complements a shining piano melody, accentuated by a refrain of horns and a litany of excited and ebullient shouts. The track would be cliched if it weren’t so incredibly infectious. Its passion is just shy of the bagpipe bombast of “Untitled” from Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” and just as powerful. (Unfortunately for importers and downloaders, “We Just Won’t Be Defeated” was not included on the original UK release of “Thunder.”)
The key to “Thunder, Lightning, Strike” is ultimately its brevity. The few missteps don’t last very long: “Air Raid Gtr” (which sounds exactly like what one would expect) only wails for 39 seconds before The Go! Team’s emcee, Ninja, raps over the game-show theme melody of “Bottle Rocket.” The Go! Team’s remarkable consistency (with the exception of the vocal-and-piano ragtime of “Hold Yr Terror Close”) does not imply redundancy; on the contrary, after the 41-minute album ends, one’s gut reaction is to spin it again.
This is thanks to the small touches. “Huddle Formation” has a beautifully contemporary indie-rock synth line almost reminiscent of Wolf Parade. “Everyone’s a VIP to Someone” has the second-best use of banjo in indie pop (behind Broken Social Scene). The buoyant brass of “Junior Kickstart” is briefly but seamlessly embellished with a fantastically piercing harmonica.
In other words, this short but sweet album is exciting and active, a welcome addition to the world of sample-pop, which has had no standout performers since the Avalanches. From start to foot-tapping finish, “Thunder, Lightning, Strike” is a vibrantly multi-layered and uniquely brash record with undeniable melody and energy.