I realize that The Go! Team’s Thunder, Lightning, Strike might not be the deepest or most profound release out there. However, it’s undeniably fun, energetic, and infectious as all get out. Taking cues from the hip-hop work ethic, the group blends samples of cheerleader squads, forgotten TV themes and Top 40 hits from the ’70s and ’80s, video games, world music, youth choirs, and other sonic flotsam with live instrumentation (including one mean harmonica).
In that sense they’re similar to The Avalanches, if Since I Left You was composed primarily of whimsical, upbeat tracks like “Frontier Psychiatrist” or “Stay Another Season.” However, there’s a decidedly and surreally nostalgic quality to The Go! Team’s music. Listening to songs like the aptly-titled “Panther Dash” (which indeed races along like some massive, sleek feline), or “The Power Is On,” I feel like I’m listening to — brace yourself — funky fragments of my decidedly un-funky youth.
Perhaps they sound like themes of TV shows that I loved as a kid but have long since forgotten. With its Jackson Five-esque vocals and raga textures, “Ladyflash” sounds like something I might very well have heard on one of those “Solid Gold” type shows I wasn’t supposed to watch, but still managed to catch every so often. Or in the case of a rousing number like “We Just Won’t Be Defeated,” those broadcasts of ABC’s “Wide World Of Sports” that I watched at my grandparents’ house suddenly come rushing to mind. And “Feelgood By Numbers,” with its rolling piano melodies and chipper disposition, sounds just like something the Electric Company would sneak into one of their PBS productions when they didn’t want me to know I was watching something educational.
The constant presence of youthful voices throughout the disc bring to mind playground memories, of playing touch football, kickball, or simply running around the parking lot and horsing around on the jungle gym. And the electronic blips, bleeps, and bloops that are sprinkled throughout the album recall those times when I was over at my best friend Aaron’s house, playing River Raid and Pitfall on his Atari.
Adding to this nostalgic quality is the hazy, lo-fi quality that surrounds and envelopes these songs in a static-y hiss, making them sound less like digital recordings and more like favorite slabs of vinyl that someone decided to rescue from their collection by burning them on CD. And like The Avalanches, there’s such a jumble of styles that the music has a very elusive quality to it, such that you can’t just force it into any obvious categories.
Sure, one could file it under hip-hop, what with the obvious sampling and female rapping (courtesy of an MC named Ninja — bonus points there, folks), but what about the blaxploitation sound on “The Power Is On”? Or the psychedelic organwork on “Friendship Update” that leans more towards the surreal sounds of Black Moth Super Rainbow? And then there’s the album’s glorious closer “Everyone’s A V.I.P. To Someone,” a song that drunkenly and deliriously veers from banjo pluckings to schmaltzy 70’s TV sitcom themes to schmaltzy 70’s TV western themes and back before ending with a stunning, even heart-wrenching orchestral flourish that somehow manages to contain every sound that preceded it.
All in all, Thunder, Lightning, Strike is an absolutely delirious record whose substance comes purely from its delirious flow and infectious sense of fun. Unlike !!! or LCD Soundsystem, which bring a similar brand of funk, but do so with a hint of smarm, there’s nothing but good-natured fun on The Go! Team’s mind. And if they can somehow recapture my childhood, or what might be my childhood, and cast it in a completely new context that has me thinking back to kinder, gentler times even as it has me furiously pounding the airdrums, whistling along, and shaking my butt in the office chair, than so much the better.