Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad – Make It Better
1.) Make It Better
2.) Live And Travel
4.) Really True
5.) Walk Right Talk Right
6.) What Kind Of World
7.) Gotta Make A Living
8.) Greatest Of Days
9.) Trouble Deep
The Pier Album Rating:
Release Date: September 16th, 2016
Release Date: Rootfire Cooperative
Official Website: Giant Panda Website
Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (GPGDS) formed in Rochester, NY back in 2001. The Upstate New Yorkers are renowned for their effortless ability to fuse jam band elements with a sturdy reggae foundation. The combination is the driving force behind their dynamic live shows. The band is made up by James Searl (bass/vocals), Chris O’Brian(drums/vocals), Dylan Savage (guitar/vocals), Dan Keller (guitar/vocals), and Tony Gallicchio (Keys). GPGDS topped Billboard’s Reggae Album Chart with 2014’s Steady, but have also proved their overall music prowess by writing two well-received Americana albums, Country (2012) and Bright Days (2015).
After another successful dabble with Americana on their previous release Bright Days, Giant Panda settled back into their reggae roots on Make It Better. The album is ripe with breezy, feel-good songs that blend together nicely. A core attribute of the album is it’s knack for transitioning a smooth chorus into a spacey jam. Throughout Make It Better, GPGDS manages to sneak in those crafty jams without losing the attention of the listener.
Make It Better may not have that one barn-burner song, but it is a conveyor belt of enjoyable melodies and deep grooves.
The top tracks on the album are “Gotta Make A Living” and “Trouble Deep.” The first is driven by a majestic horn riff and some powerful social commentary, touching on topics like homeless veterans and income inequality. “Trouble Deep” has a steady reggae rhythm with a hollowed plucking on the guitar that creates this eerie yet mesmerizing effect. The song extends into a nasty jam with a rambling guitar solo leading into a finale of horns.
Though they didn’t initially jump out at me, “Signs” and “Really True” ultimately became two of my favorite songs on the album as well. On the lighthearted song “Signs,” GPGDS sweetly sings, “Pour some wine, and pass it on to me.” The song has an outstanding outro, with a fuzzy guitar solo that mimics the vocals and a subtle, ambient build up of distortion. “Really True” is simply a warm and uplifting tune. Vocal harmonies can be heard throughout Make It Better, but Giant Panda’s use of them on “Really True” is fantastic.
There are only a handful of songs that I found myself glossing over. Mainly “Walk Right Talk Right” and “Live And Travel.” “Walk Right Talk Right” is an interesting break up in the album, incorporating a flavor of funk, really breaking from an otherwise very focused album. The odd cadence of the song just never worked for me. “Live And Travel,” one of the album’s first singles, is catchy enough and has some clever organ fills, but overall it’s a pretty cookie-cutter song.
In any case, GPGDS have created yet another impressive album. The New York band has proved they have a factory-like ability to put out good music, regardless of genre. 10 songs in length and just over a half hour long, Make It Better is a quick, but enjoyable listen. Make It Better is easy on the ears and definitely has a broad spectrum of appeal. Without a clear-cut best song, it’s an album where each listener will likely have a different set of favorites.
On a side note, Make It Better has to have one of the best album covers of any release this year. The image created by the Brooklyn-based, Iranian-born brothers Icy & Sot is packed with symbolism, and fits perfectly with the theme of the album. Summed up easily by the 3-word title, “Make It Better.”
Written & Reviewed By: Brian Winters
[Editors Note: All reviews are reflective of the album in it’s entirety, from start to finish. These reviews are the honest opinion of each writer/reviewer expressing their feedback as a genuine fan of the music. Each star rating reflects their review of the album, NOT the band. Music is subjective. Regardless of the review or star rating, we encourage you to listen to the music yourself & form your own opinion. Spread the awareness of all music in its art & contribution]
Watch: Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad – Gotta Make A Living