This morning it has been difficult for me to focus on one album. I want to be a faithful one album per post reviewer, but I find myself pulled in a few different directions. Maybe it's the Spring air? If I seem a little unfocused, please forgive me. I woke up to the smell of lilacs.
Electric Laser by Giant Panda was released today, and I wasn't really expecting the music to be hip-hop based on the mental images that the album title and band name evoked. I guess when I think of Giant Pandas, I think extinction, inability to procreate for the good of the species, China, bamboo, and cute babies. Electric Laser brings to mind different images, many (for some reason) tied to James Bond and Austin Powers, but none tied to hip-hop music.
The first real song on the album is called "Justin Case" (thus the slightly ambiguous post title), and it bumps along to a jazzy horn that slides nicely with the vocals. "Ready To Fly" follows with echoes reminiscent of water drops falling off the ceiling of a cave (albeit, extremely precise water drops), while the rhyme is interesting but not particularly challenging or exciting. "Speakers Pop" is very technocentric, floating on a beat that would not have been outlandish in an '80s video game. "AIM" has a soft edged beat, and the lyrics concentrate on working for the sanctity of art, instead of for the fame and glory. "Laser Ray" is most cleverly titled in a way that plays on names yet again, Ray being the main character of the song's story. The story itself is like a spoken-word comic book, and therefore had me hooked from word one.
If I had to guess, I would say that "Precise Calculator" is rapped in Japanese. I am unfortunately extremely ignorant when it comes to the differences between Asian languages, but Japanese is still my guess. If I'm right, then it makes for an extremely interesting (read: practically perfect) language for hip-hop. The cadence is gorgeous, although I kind of wish I knew what the lyrics mean. "Same Old $#!+", "Cinemax", and "Pops" are three low-tempo songs that explore extremely different topics. As you can probably guess, "Same Old $#!+" revolves around those everyday experiences - good and bad - that seem to repeat themselves. "Cinemax" has a deep groove, and its lyrics revolve around exactly what the title implies. "Pops" is a different hip-hop song that discusses the life of the vocalist's gay father. It's an exciting song, because it deals with a topic that is taboo in many hip-hop circles, and the lyrics are very liberal in their view of the topic (yay).
The final three songs on the album are a little faster. "Let It Go" sits on a beat that is extremely satisfying, and name-drops Pacman (bonus points). "Do The Robot In Cyberspace" is a party song with a heavy bass-line, and some celebratory horns. "Speakers Funk" has the best groove on the album, combining the best of funk and soul, while the lyrics truly celebrate the sounds that the song utilizes. It's a nice ending to a fun, if uneven album. On the one hand, if Giant Panda was trying to create a CD that was consistently challenging or consistently common, then the band failed. If, on the other hand, Giant Panda wanted to make a mix of songs that discuss heavy and light topics alternately, then they succeeded miraculously. The only problem I can see, is that a music fan who is not a careful listener may miss the high and low points of the album. Luckily, this doesn't keep the music snobs of the world from enjoying.