Picture this. You’re at a high school football game. It’s halftime. The cheerleaders, flag twirlers, and shoulder-padded Shako-topped marching band kids take the field. It’s a familiar scene, but something’s different. Instead of “The Final Countdown” or the school fight song, the pep-band starts blasting out original tunes—the sounds of 60s girl groups, old school hip-hop and Motown soul combining as the marching band goes rogue.
It’s a promising concept, one that Ian Parton placed at the center of The Go! Team’s fifth album, Semicircle, the next entry in the Brighton collective’s catalogue of souped-up, bombastic plunderphonics. “Mayday” kicks things off in a typically amalgamous fashion, the sound of morse code, cheerleader chants, ‘60s soul and that rebellious marching band swirl around a lovesick kid’s pleas for help.
The mediocre pop and child-like vocals of “Chain Link Fence” is pretty much a miss, but it’s near misses that populate most of the album. “Semicircle Song” almost works but not quite, as Parton throws in everything from glockenspiel and theremin, to a roll-call of the Detroit Youth Choir’s star signs. Same goes for “The Answer’s No Now What’s The Question,” a fluff piece about summer love that gets the full Phil Spector treatment. It boasts the most infectious melody of the album, but has a weird bit in the middle that makes it sound like a Christmas song. Also, I’m not so sure about those steel drums on “If There’s One Thing You Should Know.”
It’s because of this that Semicircle is just about as good as any other Go! Team record, but with a drum line and fight-song brass on top. Since they’ve never really been able to top 2004’s Thunder, Lightning, Strike, that means that everything on Semicircle is fun, but not much of it is super fun. It’s kind of like going a field trip; technically you’re not at school, but it’s still school.
“All The Way Live” is the best cut of the album, blasting out of the ‘60s and hightailing it to the dawn of rap. Amateur rhymes come courtesy of a gem of a sample from “Get Live ’83” by The Carver Area High School Seniors, a schoolyard rap that’s beefed up with fat horns and massive drums. It’s the most successful execution of Patron’s marching band concept; the playful sass and inescapable hook on par with Go! Team’s best.
The return of former member Ninja for “She’s Got Guns” is a late bright spot, the sound of records scratching giving her bars a perfect, house-party nostalgia. “Getting Back Up” wraps the album—an alternate universe, indie-cool version of “We’re All In This Together” from High School Musical. “Break it down and get what we came for/Do all you can and then do some more” the Detroit Youth Choir sings in spirit-week unison, cheering you on to victory at the big game.