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taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of the moment

JACK THE RADIO — Pretty Money

You get the idea from listening to Jack the Radio’s debut album Pretty Money that the Raleigh quintet possess the spirit of restless experimenters. As it floats between with a gritty blues edge, dusty Americana and soulful Southern groove, the collection of 11 power-pop and indie-rock numbers never settles. The album is in a near constant state of development, from the barroom blues of opener “Outlaws” to the staccato strutting of “Downstream.” George Hage’s vocals are subtle and plaintive, rarely forcing emotion through volume but leaving his words to do the work. They subtly expand their palette in all sorts of interesting ways, but sometimes can’t find the right mix instrumentally and structurally. They sound good channeling Alejandro Escovedo on “Rain Out,” but the cheesy vibrato licks feel a little out of place. They sometimes become too dependent upon hooks and choruses to carry songs, especially early on before they discover that not all songs need to sound like they’re built for radio. They’re at their best when pushing and kneading at the boundaries they establish early on, but there’s real progress made from the beginning to the end.

68/100

ILLPO — Classic

You have to appreciate Greensboro hip-hop duo ILLPO’s approach to the naming of their latest release. Their run of mixtapes and EPs up until now have been references to their indomitable work ethic and poise, but the new one, Classic, simply finds them looking at their own work in awe. For the most part they’ve got good reason. J Bond and Mundae Boones turn their attention away from asserting their primacy and simply celebrate the respect they’ve earned. And whereas the two emcees simply traded verses on so many previous releases, tracks like “Feel It In the Air” uses vocal harmonies to create airtight hooks. Some of the beats don’t hit quite as hard as they have in the past, but they match the tenor of the album head on. “Hard As We Go” will make the speakers thump, but some of the best beats are the subtle headphone grooves. The laconic steel drum beat that was teased on the Breakfast Club Vol. 1 mixtape is fleshed out into a breezy homage to the G life, complete with odes to Hungry Man breakfasts and bootleg DVDs. It’s a different voice from ILLPO than we’re used to, but we’ll take it.

77/100

ILLPO will perform at Club Drink in Greensboro on Friday.

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