With Rolling Blackouts, the U.K.‘s most stylish avant-pop renegades continue doing for indie what Tarantino does for cinema, not so much making a case for the tastefulness of their gloriously low-brow obsessions as obliterating the idea of taste altogether. Like Sleigh Bells, Girl Talk, and M.I.A., the Go! Team’s aesthetic is radically inclusive, which makes sense for a band that prefers sound collision to sound collage. If one’s interest in a sample extends only to how cool it will sound with about a dozen others piled on top of it, then the criteria for inclusion need not be exceedingly high. The group’s beatmeister/noise-maker extraordinaire is Ian Barton, who must have a super computer for a brain and a Fisher-Price boom box for a heart. With all due respect to MC Ninja, who is and always will be the coolest kid at this particular playground, it’s Barton who elevates the band from novelty to national treasure. And while one might expect him to streamline the band’s sound or move toward some similarly predictable ideal of maturity, he still comes to the production studio like a kid given an hour’s reign of a much richer kid’s playroom: He wants to play with as many toys as possible, and he wants to play with them all at once.
The Go! Team makes their most joyful noise on tracks like “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.” and “Apollo Throwdown,” where Ninja’s jump-rope chant verses come backed by a heavy-artillery horn section. Imagine if it were Nicki Minaj rather than Matthew Broderick who had hijacked the parade in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and you’re about halfway to understanding how potent this stuff is at its best. But those songs also benefit from the relentless crunch of their live and sampled percussion, recalling the ADHD hip-hop of Thunder, Lightning, Strike highlights like “The Power Is On” and “Bottle Rocket.” Those moments become fewer and further between as Blackouts rolls on, which is significantly less rooted in hip-hop than previous Go! Team outings. Just compare the guest lists on this album with 2007’s Proof of Youth: Sha-Rock and Chuck D out, Deerhunter’s Satomi Mastusazki and Best Coast’s Bethany Constantino in.
I’ve got no kind of prima facie objection to The Go! Team Presents: Aughties Noise Rock Night at the Roller Rink. Considering how central Sonic Youth’s white-noise outbursts are to the Go! Team’s aesthetic and, maybe more importantly, that I like the Go! Team more than about 90% of all extant indie-rock bands, I’d say that’s a record I’d be happy to add to my collection. But it turns out that the Go! Team doesn’t get much mileage without hip-hop. Taking out the swag and leaving only the sugar leaves behind a gooey, indigestible residue. You’ll find “Ready to Go Steady” cloying even by the standards of twee pop; ditto for Mastusaki’s contribution, “Secretary Song.” But I give begrudging props to Constantino’s sweetly nostalgic singing on “Buy Nothing Day”: I can’t say I’ve enjoyed much of her work with Best Coast, but she really nails that song, and as a result, it’s the one foray into bubblegum rock that pays off here.
Rolling Blackouts eventually circles around to the type of funky, percussive stuff that the Go! Team does best, though not before detouring through a few instrumentals—typically a mixed bag for the band, and no less so on this album (keep: “Bust-Out Brigade,” “Yosemite Theme”; skip: “Super Triangle,” “Lazy Poltergeist”). Those small hiccups can have an outsized impact on one’s ability to enjoy an album like this, dependent as it is on its momentum. Fortunately, we all know how to use an MP3 player, so there’s nothing stopping you from taking this album’s best tracks and tacking them onto a playlist with the winners from Proof of Youth and pretty much all of the first album. That way you never have to worry about fumbling for the skip button and tripping over your jump rope/roller skates/rocket-powered snowboard.