The Go! Team "The Power Is On"
If you had told me at the beginning of the decade that one of the most refreshing albums to come out in the next 10 years would sound like a series of 70s cop show themes mixed with cheerleading routines, I’d have probably chuckled. Hell, I might have even let out a huge belly laugh. It would have brought to mind our high school and playing the “Hawaii Five-Oh” theme to accompany our non-existent cheerleading squad at a pep rally, and that image is absolutely hilarious. The fact that The Go! Team mastermind Ian Parton managed to combine the two elements without it being laughable is a commendable accomplishment in and of itself, but the fact that he made a full album in that style that never once got cheesy or unbearable is nothing short of a miracle. Thunder, Lightning, Strike! didn’t make the albums list here, but it stands as one of the most addictive and undeniably original debut albums of the 00s. The synthesis of old-school cheerleader recordings and similar styled raps from front-woman Ninja with all manner of funky, driving instrumentals, both sampled and augmented by a live band, works in ways that defy description. For 40 minutes it’s almost like you’re watching a long buried pilot for a show about a troupe of cheerleaders who go around kicking ass, solving crimes, and entertaining large crowds in between car chases and mudfights, and that show is awesome on so many levels that it’s not even funny
In all honesty though, once “The Power Is On” was recorded he might as well have called it a day. As much as I love Thunder, Lightning, Strike! as a whole, nothing else reaches this level of near-perfection. The interactions between the sampled horns and both the cheerleaders and the live band are miles above what even the other highlights do with those same elements. The overall feel of the track is on a different level too, sounding so limitlessly joyful that it elevates itself into that odd hierarchy of songs that will without fail bring a giant grin to my face in any circumstance. I can’t quite describe what does it, but something about the song just makes it stand so far above anything else that Parton and Co. have done so far that it all but makes the rest of their oeuvre seem like an afterthought.
I think the biggest thing is that the incorporation of the band assembled by Parton is doe much more mindfully here than anywhere else on the album. I sometimes try to imagine what the song would sound like if it were stripped down to just the samples, and it’s impossible to do because the band itself is so well integrated into it that it’s hard to tell where the sample ends and the real instruments begin. I mean, there are some parts that are obviously added by the band – the huge drums that anchor the sparest parts of the track, guitarist Sam Dook’s climactic tremolo picked solo – but outside of those obvious instances it’s a case of incredible synergy between the two sides of Parton’s experiment. Especially during the song’s later part there’s a lot of absolutely perfectly timed bits of back-and-forth between what I’d assume is live guitar and the core horn sample that makes both halves of the equation come alive in ways they wouldn’t on their own, and it’s truly a thing of beauty to witness.
Parton also knows how to vary the dynamics in interesting ways. The song may be structured in a fairly standard way, but the individual sections of the sub-structures are masterfully arranged, taking advantage of the absence of key elements to give the track a new layer of grandiosity. Take out the drums and that part is calm enough to make their return that much more powerful. Take out the horns for a bit and their return is uplifting. Using the absence of certain elements to punctuate their effect on the song as a whole rarely works this well in pop music, but combined with the infectious energy that Parton and Co. imbued the proceedings with it gives the song a sense of importance that none of the other tracks have. That may be the key to it being the stand out from such a consistently good album: it makes itself heard in a way that even the best of its peers can’t.