In May 2008, I got off school for exam study leave. I remember being overjoyed at the freedom of having the house to myself, doing what I wanted when I wanted etc. In this time I discovered a lot of new music, which I now associate with study leave and make a point of listening to every subsequent year when I’m off. I also associate music with certain events, people, times of the year, times of my life etc. Sometimes the music doesn’t really fit the mood – it just happened to be the music I was listening to at the time. Other times the music I listen to appears to fit the time or event so well it’s like somebody wrote a soundtrack to my life. I’m going to talk about one such example – Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team.
Brief history – The Go! Team is a Brighton-based band who’ve released 3 albums since 2004. Their music is something of a cross between Indie Rock and Hip-Hop, although remarkably unique in itself. They have had their fair share of commercial success, with all 3 of their albums reaching the top 50 in the UK charts. Some of their songs (notably from this album) have been used in advertisements recently, from Honda to NFL to last year’s Commonwealth games, and it’s likely that you may have heard their music without knowing who it was by.I first came across this album early last September. The summer of my last year of school was ending and nobody wanted it to. Most of my friends were bound for university, and we were doing our best to hide our anxiety, both from each other and ourselves. As the summer drew to a close and the first few began preparing to leave, the reality of it all hit us very hard, and a few of us withdrew into a lugubrious solitude for a few days. The final days of our togetherness saw a few final goodbye parties; one in particular was to be the last time I would see my best friend for a few months as he jetted off to Surrey, and another great friend who has spent the last year in Africa and whom I haven’t seen since then. It was perhaps the most important day of my life, and on that day I got my first taste of Thunder, Lightning, Strike.A friend had shown me a video of the single Ladyflash, and I was immediately struck my its no-holds-barred, energy-filled, upbeat character. The passion and uniqueness of the song was so refreshing to hear. I mean, goodness knows how much processed, packaged and labeled music we hear these days, and when these guys come out and release something so unashamedly individual, you can’t help but notice. I proudly confess that I put Ladyflash on repeat for more or less the entirety of the day after my friends had left. It just seemed to fit perfectly; the vibrancy and chaotic collage of sounds seemed to represent the chaos and turmoil in my life at that point, and its youthful chanting vocals but sophisticated production paralleled my transition from adolescence to true adulthood. As I walked around the house like a ghost that day with this song on repeat, it also seemed to represent a hope that this was only temporary, and that I’d see my friends soon. I told you it fit well.
I bought Thunder, Lightning Strike immediately and it arrived a few days afterwards. Much to my delight, the whole album was of a similar style. The album is a glorious organized human mess of samples, pounding drums and incomprehensible chanting vocals, but with some of the sweetest melodies you’ll ever hear. A mix of songs with vocals and instrumentals, the character of the album is nevertheless consistent: joy. Celebration. Life. The Go! Team could rescue you from the brink of suicide with their brashness, their unparalleled enthusiasm for what they’re doing. It truly comes across in their music. You can even tell from the track titles – Feelgood by Numbers, We Just Won’t Be Defeated, Everyone’s a V.I.P. to Someone. Yet it comes across strongest in the music itself. From the plinky-plonky piano and Ennio Morricone-esque harmonica in Feelgood by Numbers to the subtle trace of a xylophone in Get It Together to Ninja’s sweet childish singing on Hold Yr Terror Close, Thunder, Lightning, Strike simply overwhelms you with its optimism and zeal. I realize I might be getting bogged down on this one point, but I can’t stress it enough – Thunder, Lightning, Strike is the happiest, most joyous album I have ever heard, and I think it stands as a testament to the power of music that it can still move us in this way.
What of the actual songs though? Well, the album starts off with the mad Panther Dash, which is followed by Ladyflash, which I’d probably argue is the best single of the 2000’s. Feelgood by Numbers is just that – 1 minute, 57 seconds of pure joy – mellow piano, sweet harmonica, no vocals. Get It Together is another beautiful (although more intense) instrumental, and Junior Kickstart takes it up a notch again, with an interpolation of the Ironside theme. I don’t know whether having the theme from a detective show in it is why the song reminds me of a high speed chase. Bottle Rocket has some glorious horns, subtle electronic noises and intense drumming, with the vocals rapped rather than sung. With another harmonica solo it is reminiscent of Feelgood by Numbers. The following song, Friendship Update, sounds like (to quote a source that I can’t remember; perhaps a reviewer on Amazon) “The soundtrack to the best day of your life.” Tranquil without losing its vigor, poignant and uplifting, Friendship Update certainly is one of the more accomplished tracks. Hold Yr Terror Close is very different, dropping all the chaotic samples and drumming and leaving just Ninja with an out of tune piano. Her sweet, naive voice and the amateurish sound of the piano playing calls back those feelings of youth and innocence, those times when you always found joy in everything around you.
Huddle Formation, another single, comes just before the glorious closer, Everyone’s a V.I.P. to Someone. Instrumental, and also the longest track on the album, it is the perfect closer. A tearful banjo rhythm leads before the song is draped in strings and harmonica. The drums kick in about halfway as the song builds and builds to its climax. There’s nothing surprising about the climax – it merely brings together all the elements that were already in the song up until that point – but the epic scope, the feeling of catharsis and the cinematic feel is enough to bring a tear to your eye. Thus the album ends, and at 40 minutes it leaves you wishing there was more, but glad there wasn’t. Why tamper with perfection?
In a way this album doesn’t just make me feel nostalgic because I associate it with a huge moment in my life, but the music itself draws back to the days of one’s youth. The Go! Team’s relentless optimism and enthusiasm for what they do on this album harkens back to the days when we were young and carefree, could see no dark clouds on the horizon and where everything, EVERYTHING around us brought us joy. There is not a moment on this album where the band’s outlook on life shows even a hint of sadness or doubt. The music is drenched in that naïve optimism. In ways though this can be seen as a criticism; perhaps its too happy for some people, perhaps it’s too childish. After all, the vocals, when you can hear them, are mostly double-dutch or chanted in a child-like way, and perhaps for the more serious music aficionado this is a bit too much. And the album is messy – it can be sloppy, the sound quality often isn’t great (having been recorded in one of the band member’s basements), and it’s incredibly sonically dense without being “heavy.” A friend of mine, after hearing Huddle Formation, said it just sounded like noise. I’m not going to deny that it might be a bit much, but it’s part of the band’s character. Thunder, Lightning, Strike is a very special album indeed, not just in general but for the band itself. Their next album, Proof Of Youth, is also a very good album, but it just doesn’t have the same appeal. The band had matured musically, and while the quality didn’t suffer, it just felt that something was missing. I don’t know what it is, but Thunder, Lightning, Strike has it. Have a listen to Ladyflash on YouTube or something, and if you like it, don’t stop there. Get the album, sit outside in the sunshine and prepare yourself for 40 minutes of sheer musical ecstasy.
Words - Adam