Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Food Flavored Album Review: The Scene Between by The Go! Team

For three albums The Go! Team has made a name for itself by crossbreeding tricked out noise rock melodies, old school hip-hop, schizzed up blaxploitation and Bollywood soundtrack collages and dance music that feels like it came straight out of a blast furnace. Overtop, they’ve pumped in jump rope chant choruses and verses delivered with choo choo train like elocution by rapper Ninja (or Kaori Tsuchida or Chi Fukami Taylor or any number of special guests including Chuck D. and Solex). But things began to feel a bit too traditional for bandleader Ian Parton. So he decided that for the band’s fourth album, The Scene Between, things would be different. Gone would be the voices of Ninja, Kaori and Chi. In their place? Vocals provided by singers Ian had never heard of before. The songs themselves would be guided by melody. Samples would not provide the backbone, instead they would be treated as any other instrument. The resulting album feels like a rebellion against the past. A warm, bright, cheery rebellion. It reeks of someone itching for a new adventure.

In a lot of ways, The Scene Between is the musical equivalent to Divas Can Cook’s Vegan Southern-Style Collard Greens. Both The Scene Between and the collard greens are built from a bubbling hot beginning. While The Scene Between is almost completely different from its predecessors, it does have one significant thing in common with them. It is still frenetic and feverish. No track symbolizes this as much as opener “What D’You Say?” The track begins refreshingly. A can of soda is opened and the fizz that accompanies a bad pour can be heard. Next, a springtime horn blows. It's not smooth and exotic like a snake charmer, more like Dwight Schrute on a recorder, but it succeeds in lulling the listener into a momentary daydream. That daydream is shattered as soon as the clicking drum sticks kick in. What follows is four plus minutes of turbulent, unadulterated, pulsing, fun. It's a brand of fun that grows from the up and down lyrical delivery of Brazilian (currently living in LA) singer songwriter Samira Winter and the distortion gripped guitars in the background. The collard greens bubbling hot beginning occurs courtesy of the oil being heated in the saute pan.

First to enter that oil? Onions and garlic. These strong, yet pliable little pieces of white matter are quickly reduced to tender blithering babies by the oil’s searing heat. Their only sense of empowerment and brass is the aromatic smell leaving their pores and the sounds of sizzle that scream out from their flesh. While the title track of The Scene Between doesn’t blither like a baby, it does capture the same empowerment and brass. It's brought by the intensely gained lyrics performed by the London Africa Gospel Choir. Amazing how some twists of a knob can take the beauty of a gospel choir and give it a more honest and raw but still completely otherworldly feel. For a few short bursts, “The Scene Between” sizzles with some of the clearest sounds on the album. In between, it mirrors a tribal scene from deep in the jungle.

Because collard greens quickly soak up whatever they are slow simmered in, they can be won or lost based on their broth. A rich, flavorful broth creates greens that exude power while simultaneously forging a connection between your palette and mind. A weak broth and your greens get their asses kicked daily on the playground. The Scene Between also toes the broth line by offering some slow simmered tracks of its own. A weak output from the brothy “Waking the Jetstream” and the album loses its quick start. Thankfully the track falls into the rich and flavorful category. Like “The Scene
Between,” “Waking the Jetstream” has vocals that have been gained to feel larger than life. The difference is that Casey Sowa (of Strange Relations) remains firmly grounded with her terrestrial, singer-songwriterish delivery. This feels appropriate considering that the synths, loops and acoustic instruments in the track are arranged around a slightly slower base of music. Strip away all the production and “Waking the Jetstream” fits nicely on CMT (during the overnight shift) but loses its robustness. It's all those production elements that make this track what it is: an excellent indie rock song.

But, I’m a traditionalist, man. What about the bacon taste? I need to have that smoky, bacon flavor when I eat my collards. I hear ya. You can’t completely buck tradition or your new creation will no longer resemble what you started with. In Diva’s Greens, the bacon taste is achieved by using smoked salt. It's expensive as hell…but totally worth it. “The Art Of Getting By (Song for Heaven’s Gate)” is the bacon flavor of The Scene Between. It is the track that most closely links what Ian Parton and crew are trying to accomplish with what they have done previously. Musically, the song is driven by heavily emphasizing percussion and horns. It is the same two instruments which are at the heart of the band’s most famous track (at least if you are an American football fan) “The Power is On.” The similarities between what’s been and what is stop there as “The Art of Getting By (Song for Heaven’s Gate)” is much slower and more controlled than “The Power is On”. For the second time on The Scene Between, the vocals are provided by the London Africa Gospel Choir. Just like they did with “The Scene Between,” the choir elevates the song into a realm that is much more spiritual than
typical indie rock tracks. It's the perfect delivery considering that the song was inspired by the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate religious cult.

I don’t care if your collard greens have meat or not, no bundle of greens is complete without a generous helping of hot sauce. It makes the greens flare, it makes them pop. “Blowtorch” is The Scene Between’s hot sauce. Its surfy, but not in a simplistic Weezer sort of way. The surf/noise rock combo creates a depth that a lot of strict surf rock never reaches. This depth is the flare. It is the pop.

While The Go! Team’s The Scene Between is a fun album, it isn’t without its faults. Each time I listen
to it, I start off enjoying everything the early tracks have to offer. After the instrumental awesomeness of “Gaffa Tape Bikini” I lose separation between the tracks. With the exception of “The Art of Getting By (Song for Heaven’s Gate)” the tracks seem to run together. While flavors meshing together is a good thing in the world of collard greens, it isn’t ideal for albums. Still, with over half the tracks being at the good to exceptional level, you won’t see me begging for the old tried and true anytime soon.

"What D'You Say":

"The Scene Between":

"Waking the Jetstream":