Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad In These Times (Controlled Substance Sound Labs)
The Black Seeds Dust And Dirt (Easy Star Records)
Have you ever had a “what if …” sorta conversation that birthed the question, “What if Pink Floyd had recorded a reggae/soul/funk album in the late 70s?”
Yeah – I thought you might have.
In answer to that question, I humbly submit Dust And Dirt, the latest album from New Zealand’s The Black Seeds. Now, don’t overthink things here – the bottom line is, the Seeds have once again concocted a rootsy mix that will strike you in numerous body parts all at once, bringing on compulsive bumps, grinds, shimmy shakes, finger pops, and hand claps. But there’s an added layer of … well … Floydian spaciness and depth to the music on Dust And Dirt that fits The Black Seeds quite nicely.
Right off the bat, you have “Out Of Light” ushering in the album with ominous suspended keys that are soon joined by drums and bass, slowly stomping as one. The shapeshifter vocals are nearly indecipherable, but it matters not – this is an invitation to get lost in the swirl of the sound … and it’s an easy thing to do.
Imagine the heroine of Alice In Wonderland with her hair tucked up into a big ol’ knit Rasta hat and you’ll understand the musical resizings on the title track, where a gentle piano tinkle sounds massive – or “Rusted Story”, where a cymbal crash is as big as the Seeds’ whole horn section. (Don’t worry – when you’re in the middle of it, it’ll all make perfect sense.)
“Pippy Pip” is chock full of multi-textured rhythms that combine street-corner cool with outback rootsiness. “Loose Cartilage”, on the other hand, is as street as street can be – a lamppost-humping alley cat guitar and walloping trashcan drums provide the tune’s killer hook, before giving way to a smooth dance rhythm that could be a member of the same gang as Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon Of Choice”. (It’s one of those times when the lines between reggae, funk, and soul are completely blurred – but then again, who cares when the music feels this good?)
Listen to how the vapory vox of “The Bend” float over top of the killer percussion workout down below; dig the cool horn punches of “Love Me Now” (which never sounds like a plead or a command – just a statement of the way things are); roll with the slow s-s-s-s-sexy skank of “Frostbite”; listen to “Cracks In Our Crown” and receive a lesson in funky social commentary that knows the difference between being powerful and threatening; and “Don’t Turn Around” could be a great lost cut of off Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess album. (Go look it up and learn ya something, kids.)
Again, the comparison to vintage Pink Floyd is based on know-no-bounds arrangements and sonic mix magic, but the vibe is there, for sure. (And I have to say, if the guitar break that begins at the 4:20 – honest – mark of “Wide Open” doesn’t make you think of a dreadlocked David Gilmore, then you ain’t trying.)
All in all, Dust And Dirt finds The Black Seeds pushing things a little further, breaking barriers in the bestest of ways with their unique blend of funk with a reggae backbone. If you absolutely need a label for the Seeds’ music, how about “world soul”? Works for me.
There’s actually a moment of that same sort of Floydian thang happening on Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad’s new In These Times album. At the 2:56 mark of “Next Best Explosion” the machine-gunned verses and lazy chorus dissolve as totally psychedelic vapors of dubby horns, keys, and percussion swirl around a wickedly cool guitar lead that could easily have come from Gilmore’s black Strat.
But we won’t get all carried away here with the Pink theme: the heart and soul of Giant Panda’s latest album is red, gold, and green – great tunes that aren’t afraid to jam, but never stray far from their reggae roots.
Whereas GPGDS’ Country album from a few months ago found the band in an acoustic mood, they’ve plugged things back in for In These Times. The result is a trippy groove stew conatining a dozen hellishly solid songs.
One thing that should be noted right off the bat is the fact that Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad doesn’t get anywhere near the credit they deserve for their vocal arrangements. Tight where it counts, but raw and soulful at the same time, the Pandas are a force to be reckoned with when they go to the mics. Their harmonies are cool – not always heading in an expected direction, but all the better for that very reason and sweet every time.
Speaking of vocals, members of The Green provide backing vox on “All Night Music” – one of the songs that was also on Country. Whereas “All Night Music” was an end-of-the-party coastdown on that album, here it’s a big bass-boned invitation to get it on laced with spacy dubbiness. The title track is another tune shared by the two albums; and it’s totally at home in both settings. Here, the Pandas take their time getting the groove all comfy before they get to the first verse; by the halfway mark it’s a total dubfest (kudos to longtime GPGDS boardman Joel Scanlon). And the version of “Far Away” on In These Times contains just as much longing, but the hay bale bounce found on Country has been traded for a laid-back skanked rhythm.
The guest horns providing the hooky lines on “Healing” make the thing sound like an early Jamaican sound system version of some hit from the States (and that’s a cool thing). And the opener “Change You” is a crash course in what’s good and tasty about Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad: those neat harmonies mentioned earlier; keys that sound like somebody’s been taking awfully good care of them for 40 years or so; classic guitar tone – from nuts-on skanking to a murmuring wah solo that kicks in at 2:42; and beneath it all, a massive wump-thump-to-the-bone bass and drum sound. (There’s even a bit of mouth harp, just for fun.)
Combine all that with the fact that GPGDS handled the production duties on the yin/yang of Country and In These Times themselves and you can’t help but think, “Jesus … is there anything they can’t do?”
Not as long as it has a groove, apparently.