Album Review: “Steady” by Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad

Steady is Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad’s White Album, a point in their career when they neither stick to the routine nor break into an unpalatable artsy mode. Instead, they harness the absolute power of Simplicity, using musical conventions to their advantage, developing concise, poignant, beautiful songs that flow together and also span a great number of themes and styles.

For years, Giant Panda has been forerunners in contemporary roots reggae, rejecting the fancy for the flawless. Their songs always utilized keys and syncopated bass rhythms in a way that, if you didn’t know better, you could have guessed the songs were covers from class reggae artists.

It took them years to get from Slow Down to In These Times, but it didn’t take so long for GPGDS to team up with Easy Star Records- the masters of contemporary reggae production- and to come out with Steady, a more fun and party-centric album than In These Times is. Where In These Times touched on social and political issues, Steady is full of love songs, songs about family, travel, and the power of reggae music.

What bears more comparison to The Beatles is that Dan, Dylan, and James all share lead vocals, and they work together with drummer Chris to forge delicious harmonies and backing vocals. They risk some rock beats, fiery harmonica (care of the since-departed bandmate Aaron Lipp, who leaves his legacy on this record), and dances with blues and soul, but mainly they keep to roots.

A few songs have been fan favorites in the live arena for years. “.45” finally gets the studio treatment, as does “Solution”, but in all honesty every song is downright excellent. This is one of the best reggae albums ever made.

The best song might be “Nice Feeling”, offering a perpetual summer vibe. The easy skank is ridiculously heartwarming and the harmonies are inescapably gorgeous. Dylan Savage takes lead vocals, offering, “Don’t ever let this feeling/go away.” It doesn’t ever take him many words to get his message across; the lyrics are always simple but spot on and poetic. The leverage is in the band’s ability to rise and fall within the confines of the style, their breakdowns and build-ups possess the emotional connections. Here, it’s the keys solo, playing little more than the main melody, but the slight dub behind it and the quality of the recording make it memorable.

Dan Keller, although at this point a longtime member of GPGDS, really makes his mark with “Home”, a song whose lyrical construction is perplexing. The near-rhymes and flipping of lines is not conventional, but neither is it confusing. He offers, “Sing for your lovers/ sing for your enemy/ It’s time to go home.” The banjo flourish is reminiscent of John Brown’s Body circa “Forward Always”.

Steady could end up being the best reggae album of the year. The young band that a decade ago hit the road with an idea and love of the idea of modern reggae have become the wizened masters of the craft. Steady is just that, supremely balanced and forward moving.

You’ll love it.

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