"Electric Laser" by Giant Panda

Giant Panda
Electric Laser

Tres Records
2008

Review

Take the sounds that the computers would make in the 2001 movie and squeeze them through uptempo dirty hip-hop beats...and then layer in old-school influenced rock the party lyrics, and you get this album.

Ah man...this album took me a few listens to get into because it was so different from the last Giant Panda release. This isn't to say that they have modified the content of their lyrics - on the contrary, they are still on that old-school influenced rock the party and have fun vibe -but in general the tracks here seem to have a lot more emphasis on the production. Their last album had that dirty, slightly low-fi feel to it while this one has a fuller sound to it.

With a title like "Electric Laser" and an album cover that evokes memories of 1970's B-Movie science fiction, it should come as no surprise that the album is rife with electronic beeps and blips as well as with sounds heard from phasers, lasers, and warp-drives. This aesthetic doesn't carry through on all the tracks on the album as there are a few notes back to the sound made pervasive on the last release, but there is a definite focus to the theme of the album throughout.

It's hard for me not to geek out on a new Giant Panda record considering how into their last album I was. I first became aware of Giant Panda when they opened a show at the Knitting Factory in LA about 5 or so years ago. That show featured Giant Panda, Lifesavers, People Under The Stairs, J-Live, and Ugly Duckling. It was probably one of the best Hip-Hop shows I've ever been too. I remember seeing Giant Panda on stage and first being impressed with their beats and the fact that they had an MC that was rapping in Japanese and English. For fans of Hip-Hop both old and new, it was refreshing to see a group that had so much love for Hip-Hop history - from The Sugarhill Gang, on through A Tribe Called Quest - and repped it through and through in that J-5 way. That influence remains even on this album.

Giant Panda at their best are having a good time and rapping about it; the standout tracks on this album are those where GiPan talk about rocking the house. Peep "Speakers Pop" and "Do The Robot In Cyberspace" to see what I mean. Even the hilariously chrous'ed "Same Old $#!+" does a fantastic job of showing you what GiPan are all about - ridiculous jazz-influenced beats and clever rock the party lyrics - while maintaining a great sense of humor.

Speaking of "Do The Robot In Cyberspace", um, that is a RIDICULOUS name for a song! That's so ill that seriously maybe you should just buy the album on account of that one song! You've got Giant Panda talking about all the ways that you can communicate ill tracks with your friends via cyberspace. Chikaramanga works perfectly on the chorus with his deadpan delivery.

I have to mention the track "Pops". There can be no doubt that there is a great amount of homophobia throughout most of Hip-Hop. I have to give credit to Giant Panda for addressing the issue directly on this album. I'll admit that when I first heard the track I dismissed it as "corny". Upon multiple listens to that track, however, I found that from a beat perspective the track is awesome with it's crazy interpolated drum break and keyboard and the fact that the MC is evidently being really sincere on the track as he recounts explicitly some of homophobia origins in Hip-Hop and the state of it today. You don't often hear this topic addressed and I think that - while perhaps a bit out of place considering the topics of the rest of the album - Giant Panda should be commended for trying to tackle a serious issue in their music. This track also has the distinction of being the most jazzy on the album and the jazz break at the end of the song is not to be ignored.

The honor of "best beat on the album" to me goes to the beat on "Cinemax" - which is the first ode I've heard to staying home and watching cable maybe ever. True, the beat on this track doesn't really carry the whole electronic sounds over hip-hop beats thing, but man, I'm a sucker for that static sample and horn interpolation.

Overall, Giant Panda have added another fantastic addition to their catalog and have done it not so much by completely reinventing what they were about but rather by focusing loosely on a concept and staying true to those things that make them such a draw to me (namely feel good lyrics and a focus on inventive samples, drum breaks, and samples - the essence of good hip hip according to Joe). If you've never heard of Giant Panda, now is a good time to get acquainted.

4.000 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. Laser Beam (Scotty's Theme) (00:51)
2. Justin Case (02:47) 4
3. Ready to Fly (03:29) 3
4. Speakers Pop (03:41) 5
5. AIM (02:58) 5
6. Laser Ray (04:02) 3
7. Precise Calculator (02:44) 3
8. Same Old Shit (03:41) 4
9. CinemaX (04:58) 5
10. Pops (03:34) 3
11. Let It Go (03:22) 4
12. Do the Robot in Cyberspace (03:30) 5
13. Speakers Funk (03:56) 4