St. Louis Band iLLPHONiCS Release New Digital 45: “X-Rated”

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St. Louis music innovators iLLPHONiCS are more than a band, they’re an identity. They’re also a rarity, in that all five individuals in the band are founding members, and since 2006, they’ve consistently made some of the most groundbreaking music to come out of the St. Louis music scene, if not the entire Midwest. Their infectious, high energy sound incorporates elements of hip hop, rap, R&B, soul, pop, jazz and funk, with stylish compositions and harmonic vocals that grab and hold listeners and audiences rapt attention. The five band members include lead singer/emcee Larry “Fallout” Morris, Keith Moore (keyboards, backing vocals), Kevin Koehler (lead guitar, backing vocals), Simon Chervitz (bass) and Chaz Brew (drums, backing vocals).

I had the pleasure of reviewing their superb fifth album Gone With the Trends in 2016 (which you can read here), and in 2017 they followed with Purple Piano Society,  which was named one of St. Louis’ best albums of 2017 by The Riverfront Times.  Now the band is set to release their first Digital 45 entitled “X-Rated” on Friday, May 25. “X-Rated” will include two songs, an A-side “Breathe Like” and a B-side “Green Note$.” The band calls the Digital 45 “a comfy middle ground between the paltry single and the increasingly trendy EP.” “X-Rated” will be available to stream on Spotify and Soundcloud, among other platforms. The band requests all downloads be purchased from their Bandcamp account.

A week later, on Saturday, June 2, iLLPHONiCS will celebrate the release with their first St. Louis live performance of 2018 – “A Sensory Experience,” to be held at the Stage at KDHX, starting at 8 pm. Tickets are $10 and available in advance through Ticketfly. The band will be collaborating with Captured Planet on visuals for the event, which will also serve as a kind of ‘unofficial’ release party for ‘X-Rated.

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iLLPHONiCS went on tour in 2017 to promote Purple Piano Society, performing in Detroit, New York and Boston, among other cities. Then they spent this past winter writing new songs, the first of which are the two now being released. Regarding these new songs, band frontman and emcee Larry “Fallout” Morris explains: “Musically we have melded many types of genres but the one genre we haven’t explored the most is Hip-Hop. It only makes sense that we go deeper into what’s at the core of our sound.”

“Breathe Like truly is what it is. We all have physical desires and fantasies, and they are even better when you’re engaging with someone who shares the same passion for you, as you for them. Being able to act upon those things and being open with your partner (and vice versa) is a beautiful thing and something worth celebrating. I appreciate love songs and the beauty of intimacy, but sometimes you got to kick it up a notch. This keeps things interesting!

“Green Note$ is inspired by my own experience but also by stories I’d get from my cousin and bandmate Chaz, who at one point used to frequent gentlemen’s clubs often. I know many regular people who attend strip clubs, and I feel that it’s awkward that society often looks down on the profession, especially when we are embracing sexuality in ways they didn’t when my parents were growing up. I also play on the power dynamic, because even though some unfortunately may see the profession of stripping as “lowly,” I see the power in a person being able to seduce an individual to come off some cash.”

“Breathe Like” has a slow and sexy hip-hop beat, with background breathy sounds that continue throughout the track. Cool synths and a crisp snare drum are the dominant instruments, but there’s smooth bass and terrific harmonic vocals holding it all together. Morris croons “I love when you bend down and let me feel some.” And “Green Note$” features sparkling synths and smooth guitar set to a mesmerizing beat. The harmonizing vocals are especially nice on this track, but then that can be said of all iLLPHONiCS songs. They’re both exceptional tracks, and fresh proof that, after 12 years of making music, this band is still at the top of their game.

Connect with iLLPHONiCS:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp

iLLPHONiCS – “Gone With The Trends” Album Review

Let me say up front that I was not previously familiar with the St. Louis hip hop fusion band iLLPHONiCS, despite having lived in that city from 1995 to 2011. With that in mind, I was blown away the instant I listened to their new album “Gone With The Trends,” the fifth released by iLLPHONiCS in the past 10 years. This band is amazing! Their highly infectious music incorporates elements of hip hop, R&B, soul, pop, jazz and funk, with lush, stylish instrumentals and harmonic choruses that call to mind Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang. That explains why I like them so much.

Band members include lead singer/emcee Larry Morris, Keith Moore (keyboards), Kevin Koehler (lead guitar), Simon Chervitz (bass), Chaz Brew (drums) and Lena Charlie (vocals). In an interview with Tracy Heck for the website AXS, Morris explained that the album title was conceived in response to society’s preoccupation with today’s social media trends, “with everything trending and short attention spans and no longevity.” He added that what distinguishes iLLPHONiCS from other bands who have come and gone is their ability to stay true to themselves. “This album was us saying to the world that we’re going to continue to go against the trends” and “keep being consistent in the way we know how. We’re taking it back to a time where playing musical instruments was the thing. This is hip-hop before the sampler and the drum machine. It’s going back to when funk was really at its height and hip-hop was starting to come alive.”

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“Gone With The Trends” skillfully employs transitional interludes to connect some of the songs in a manner similar to the groundbreaking album Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. The opening track is a recording of a man buying the album at Vintage Vinyl, the landmark record store in University City, a St. Louis suburb which happens to be the home town of iLLPHONiCS. (I personally spent many hours perusing the store’s extensive collection of vinyl and CD recordings of every conceivable genre of music.)  When he unwraps the CD and places it into his car CD player, the first song “Everything (Jammin’ For You)” begins.

This awesome, upbeat jazzy track introduces the band as if performing at a sophisticated nightclub. It features Morris as emcee and Lena Charlie on vocals, with gorgeous, soaring horns played by DJ Nune aka Lamar Harris. The song’s arrangement is perfection, with beautiful, tinkling piano, gentle percussion and smooth guitar.  It ends with a phone call interlude, then immediately segues into the funky, guitar-infused hip hop track “She,” which channels Kool & the Gang in style, arrangement and the harmonizing chorus. These two are my favorite songs on the album.

The first single released from the album is “What D’Ya Like,” an energetic, funked-up and incredibly catchy hip hop track that also features the smooth, sultry vocals of Lena Charlie.

The song “96 to 99” is an ode to the early days of hip hop and the strong influence it had on the band members. “Hip hop, man, just where do I start? At 11 years of age, you infiltrated my heart. I knew my career path, I had to be an emcee.”  The song’s jazzy textures, funky basslines and rippling horns of DJ Nune aka Lamar Harris, not to mention the smooth vocals of Lena Charlie, make it one of the standouts on the album.

The R&B infused “Take You High” opens with smooth synthesized chords, and features the incredible harmonic vocals that are iLLPHONiCS’ hallmark. Lena Charlie vocalizes on the bluesy “Han Purple,” and the band amps up the beat on “Liquid Spaceships,” a great, lively track with delightfully funky guitar riffs and rapid-fire rapping.

“Sweet Missouri” – pronounced “misery” – is a dramatic, somewhat unsettling song about the struggles of being a middle child. It has a hard rock vibe with crushing hip hop beats, distorted guitar and a barrage of rapping and Kristeen Young’s eerie, high-pitched vocals.

The most provocative tracks on the album are “8/9/14” and “The Brown Frequency.”  “8/9/14” is an audio compilation of news reports on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, used with great dramatic effect to introduce “The Brown Frequency.” The song is a protest anthem that addresses the recent spate of police shootings of unarmed Black men, and the Black Lives Matter movement that grew from years of grievances. The song’s refrain “What do you do when you’re sick and tired of bein’ abused? Fight back!” is an emotionally charged call to action.

The album closes with the title song “Gone With The Trends,” a bluesy hip hop tune that addresses the subject of the album itself – “People going crazy trying to keep up with their friends, everybody, everybody goin’ with the trends.”

This is a great, solid album, especially for those who prefer their hip hop fused with R&B, funk, jazz and rock. Show The iLLPHONiCS some love by following them on  Twitter,  Facebook, and Instagram.  Subscribe to their YouTube channel, and stream their music on Spotify and Soundcloud. Purchase it on Bandcamp,  iTunes and other sites offering music for purchase.