Since they burst onto the scene with Thunder, Lightning, Strike in 2004, everything released by the Go! Team has been an exuberant blast of life-affirming, heartwarming fun. The players may change and the stylistic mix may vary, but one thing remains constant, and that's founder Ian Parton's knack for crafting genius pop songs out of obscure samples and picking the perfect people to sing and/or rap over them. After 2015's song-oriented The Scene Between, where Parton rebooted the band and populated the album with vocalists found on the Internet, 2018's Semicircle returns to the classic Go! Team approach with a few nifty alterations. To make the music, Parton dipped into his record collection to find samples as usual, but also asked original guitarist Sam Dook and touring drummer Simone Odaranile to help out. After The Scene Between's indie pop leanings, Semicircle shifts back to the classic GT sound with equal parts funk, hip-hop, shoegaze, indie pop, and schoolyard chants represented. To this Parton adds some marching band swagger, with many songs boasting mighty horn sections and stomping beats. Next, he whipped up his usual blend of offbeat and unexpected singers, traveling to Detroit to record vocals by the Detroit Youth Choir and area high-school kids, finding Texas mod rocker Darenda Weaver on Bandcamp, and adding Annelotte de Graaf (aka Amber Arcades) to the mix. He also utilized Angela "Maki" Won-Yin Mak, who sings in the live band, and called in original member Ninja. It's a typically interesting mix of voices, and Parton matches them up with the songs perfectly. The kids have just the right amount of sweetness and swagger on their songs; "Chain Link Fence" is a dreamy R&B confection that floats on air effortlessly, their massed vocals fill the whomping soul jam "Mayday" with soulful intensity, and their innocence gives the title track a lighthearted bounce. Elsewhere, Ninja shows she hasn't lost a step in the sass department on the fiery "She's Got Guns," Julie Margat's breathy French intonations lend "Hey!" some continental charm, Weaver's girlish voice has just the right amount of toughness for the girl group-inspired "The Answer's No - Now What's the Question?," Maki handles the steel drum-heavy "If There's One Thing You Should Know" with a light touch, and de Graaf's feature "Plans Are Like a Dream U Organise" is a mind-bending blend of sunshine pop, hip-hop, and shoegaze that she helms in just the right understated fashion. Add in a couple of witty instrumentals and a strutting hip-hop-meets-marching-band jam that samples a 1981 record made by a class of Chicago high-schoolers ("All the Way Live"), and the result is another eclectic, iconoclastic record that doesn't sound like anything else happening in the world. That the Go! Team can sound as fresh and inventive on Semicircle as they did when they started is an impressive, almost miraculous, feat that defies nature and defines triumphant joy.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra