Through the first few Illphonics releases (a full-length and a few EPs), the quintet continually tinkered with how best to match Larry "Fallout" Morris' strong-shouldered hip-hop verses with a live backing band. On the group's sophomore LP, the players have stopped trying to re-create the clicks and hits of hip-hop and fully embraced the heady fusion that it flirted with on earlier songs. The players are comfortable enough with varying shades of groove music, from deft, rhythmically complex solos to looplike patterns to Quiet Storm shimmers. Guitarist Kevin Koehler and keyboardist Keith Moore take a lot of the credit for these shifting moods. Koehler's dulcet licks on the album-closing waltz "Your Eyes" nicks a little from Santo & Johnny and a little from Red Hot Chili Peppers. This particular tempo isn't Morris' best friend during the verses, but the chorus is a touch of Talking Book-esque sublimity. The muted trumpet line adds to the mid-'60s West Coast flavor, one of several places where smart horn charts and solos brighten the corners.
And really, it's Illphonics' willingness to toy with genres that makes it hard to think of it as a hip-hop group anymore, even with Morris taking center stage on nearly every track. This time around, the band is less concerned with coming hard than it is with coming correct. It's the softness that wins out here, from the swelling strings and driving piano chords that help "Show No Weakness" earn its gravitas to the bossa nova guitar on "Fly Home" (featuring guest star Syrhea Conaway) that offers some breezy lightness. The final run of this overstuffed (and, in stretches, overlong) fourteen-track album takes a more laid-back tone than some of the more topical and personal material of the earlier track. "The Ballad of Studley Grooveright" is a fun throwaway about a mythic bass player, which naturally gives Simon Chervitz a chance to pluck and slap his bass like the title character. It's that kind of musical levity that makes Illphonics more versatile, and more fun, this time around.