Middle passage

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Solillaquists of Sound want to bring value back to the music experience. Since signing to indie powerhouse Anti- Records, Orlando's first family of hip-hop soul has been building The Listener's Trilogy, an ambitious three-album arc that's a microcosm complete with its own mythos and milieu. It's a prismatic, multimedia world where the visual art, created almost entirely by SOS MC Swamburger, is as integral to their product as the music.

Taking cues from classical theater, the collection's first act was 2006's As If We Existed, which established the mise-en-scène, introduced the characters and laid out the themes. By the trilogy's conclusion in the yet-to-be-written next record, the Solillaquists say the wall between artist and audience will finally be kicked down. But No More Heroes, the current album and second act, is where the action spikes.

This record deepens the colors of SOS' domain considerably. Besides J-Live, Chali 2na and DJ J.Storm, most of the guest cameos are from noted non-rap Florida musicians like Brad Register (ex-Summerbirds in the Cellar), Jeff Ilgenfritz (Mumpsy), Sean Moore and members of the Supervillains, an organic gesture that gives the record more sonic complexity. The sound here is a dramatic expansion in style, accommodating even abstract pop songs like "The Curse" and the chamber-straddling neo-soul of "Look," whose sumptuous tapestry of horns and strings is the album's best canvas for Alexandrah's pure singing voice.

However, this record's about getting down to business, and it's most affecting when it's head-on. While the thinking man's hip-hop on As If We Existed was aimed at the cerebrum, No More Heroes shoots for the viscera. Charging hard on banging, dance floor—worthy beats, this is an intentionally direct sound that's fluid, aggressive and hard-hitting. The undisputed haymakers are "New Sheriff in Town" and "Gotham City Chase Scene." The former is the album's big anthem, hopping with adrenaline and tension, while the latter bears down with smothering synths, Public Enemy samples and a sonic thickness that even UNKLE would admire.

Their visual aspect keeps pace with the CD art, shedding the previous gallery perspective for a throbbing, vibrant comic-book expression. Moreover, the art is gradually integrating real photography into its language, a direction that will continue beyond this album. Deepening their narrative are illustrations filled with ciphers that foreshadow the next album.

No More Heroes brings the trilogy concept much more into focus and sets the stage for the final illuminating chapter. It even ends in a cliffhanger with the final sentence of Tonya Combs' spoken-word piece cut off at a key point. Their next album will further define Combs' role, explain the group's moniker and unfurl a genre-busting sound that may just lift SOS to Outkast-like transcendence.

Lyrically, SOS remains intellectually provocative, tackling themes of society and self. But the delivery on No More Heroes is direct and deadly, an attack that brings new funk and power to Swamburger's TEC-9 cadence. Their concept's always been tight, but musically and visually this is a significantly more realized and contemporary work. No More Heroes has all the bump and jump to be a major breakout record for the family.

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About The Author

Bao Le-Huu

Music columnist.
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