I can think of a lot of shows I used to watch (or catch snippets of) on Saturday mornings, whether it was on Kids’ WB, Fox Kids or some other channel: Digimon, Pokémon, Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs; Kirby: Right Back at Ya!; Power Rangers, several iterations of Transformers (including the underrated[?] Beast Wars) and a whole lot of repackaged Japanese weirdness—some show about a cavekid whose dad was a hammer(?) and something that was essentially Yu-Gi-Oh except cooking themed.
If I ever went back to these shows, I imagine I’d consider most of them crap. As adult, I’ve more or less abjured the realm of Saturday Morning Cartoons.
Bear in mind, I still watch cartoons, but willfully rising before the klaxon blasted you from dreamland to immerse yourself in the event—indeed, the pageantry—of Saturday mornings is somewhat beyond my ken now. Nonetheless, those days have their own peculiar sheen (whether it was the glister of manufacture or the glisten of dew) in my memory.
The Go! Team has always had a cartoonish bent to their music—replete as it is with enthusiasm and joy, evident in their inclusion on the Little Big Planet soundtrack—but The Scene Between takes me into that dewy, glistering realm of Saturday Morning like nothing else I’ve heard in a while.
You’ve got all the elements to a show here: you’ve got your theme song—the title track, which sounds positively hymnal—and a song to play over the credits—“The Art of Getting By (Song for Heaven’s Gate)” with its wizened yet sunnily optimistic lyrics, apparently an homage to the religious group that committed mass suicide in 1997 in order to have their souls beamed up to a spaceship trailing in the wake of the Hale-Bopp Comet—as well as bump music—three short tracks (“Rolodex The Seasons,” Gaffa Tape Bikini” and “The Floating Felt Tip”) of which Rolodex is my favorite, with its succinct bit of rapping at the end—fight songs—“Walking the Jetstream” and “Blowtorch”—and character development songs—“Did You Know?” with its charming telephone effect and sheer pop sheen, along with “Catch Me On The Rebound” and “Her Last Wave”—i.e. more than enough to glue a narrative together. Even the name (Go! Team! Go! Go! Go!) implies cartoonish coalition.
And what would such a show be about? I’m imagining something like classic Power Rangers, with Digimon’s sense of techno-organic wanderlust and Kirby’s color scheme. Such a thing could be as rad as this new Go! Team album here.
Originally, the delineation between The Go! Team and other thrift shop plunderers seemed pretty clear cut. Whereas instrumental hip hop heads and Bookish bedroom auteurs foraged through dusty grooves and folk comps, Go! Team leader Ian Parton seemed like he was drawn more to soda-splattered Jem and the Holograms VHS tapes. If it was possible to sample Goosebumps books and ratty old Skip-Its, those elements would have sounded right at home on the first two Go! Team albums. The band’s claim to fame remains “Huddle Formation,” a buzzing bit of cheerleader bru-ha-ha and shoegaze zaniness that is as useful a sonic signifier for the year 2004 as any.
With their third album, 2011’s Rolling Blackouts, the group’s origins as a bedroom project were left behind. Had the band grown up, all suited and tied? Not really. A jump in fidelity and a noticeable uptick in songwriting complexity resulted in the group’s finest effort, featuring wonderfully whistful songs like “Ready to Go Steady” and “Secretary Song,” but this was still the same band as before. The songs on Blackouts still draw from hip-hop, shoegaze, and 50s pop, but they sound more like their own thing. If a band so obsessed with sounding like the past could possibly grow into their own sound, it happened here.
The fourth Go! Team album, The Scene Between, arrives after a 4 year gap during which Parton seemed to be laying dormant. Despite the time gap, this new album sockets right into the progression established by Blackouts. In some ways, it feels like the largest artistic leap the band has taken yet. The hip-hop influences and samples are mostly absent, leaving the core Go! Team sound to expand and draw more energy from itself rather than nostalgia. The abrasive screeches and schoolyard shouts of the past are mere echoes now, and songcraft is pushed to the fore in a big way. The Go! Team have grown from cultural spelunkers into a rock-solid, energetic pop band, and the change feels like a healthy one.
Unfortunately, The Scene never coheres into as full an experience as that growth suggests. Still, I rank its best moments above just about everything else in the discography. Opener “What D’You Say?” is shockingly effervescent, literally beginning with a freshly-poured soda (my one true vice). “All the chances I never grabbed, well I’m making up for it… All the hours I laid in bed, well I’m making up for it” goes the verse, and the music provides ample evidence that those platitudes are true. It’s all drum fills and bells and feedback that sounds like melody and melody that sounds like feedback, with no time given to stupid things like breathers or second thoughts. Compare to late-album emptiness like “The Art of Getting By,” which features the same formula but sounds like flat soda compared to the freshly-opened cola provided by the album’s first couple songs.
By cutting out so many Go! Team signifiers, the band is forced to stand by their own compositions in a way they’ve never really had to before. When it works, it really does work. No other band sounds like this, whether that be due to confidence or a very specific sugary crunch. But, when the songwriting relies too heavily on its own cheerfulness, without anything but hooks to go on, no number of cymbal crashes or buzzing amplifiers can make up for it. Once you figure out which 4 or 5 songs to keep though, The Scene boils down into some unimpeachable mixtape fodder.