Slick funk, vibrant rock and spitfire hip-hop verses combine on Illphonics' second release, the five-song Illusion EP. This collection is offered as a free download at the band's website (www.illphonics.net), and it's a nice calling card for a band with a clean, developed style. Emcee Larry "Fallout" Morris studied audio production in college, and that background comes through in the EP's clearly defined sound. The drums are crisp, the keyboards are understated, and Kevin Koehler's guitar work is varied and tasteful. Koehler handles the Steely Dan-like changes in "We Got Soul!" like an LA sessionman, and "Vows (I.O.U.)" is livened by some Isley Brothers-indebted guitar leads. Live-band hip-hop can be a dicey enterprise, but the instrumentalists show enough personality and rhythmic sense while still leaving plenty of space for Morris' rhymes.
As a bandleader and emcee, Morris handles the mic with easy charisma and plenty of confidence, especially on the opening track, "Playin' to Win." Bravado is a key element in every hip-hop artist's arsenal, but the Illphonics backs up its boasts with musical chops. The final track, "Goodbye," is a kiss-off to haters, lazy promoters and complacent musicians that shows both Morris' sharp tongue and dedication to his craft. The harmony vocalists sing the hook with a soulful gravitas that ties the whole song together. Even on this short EP, the band proves that it can switch gears and dabble in a few different genres, while still maintaining a signature sound.
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