These days, America's hip-hop purists long for a respite from the synth-based thug-rap currently enjoying airwave domination. Listeners who appreciate a less abrasive form of the music will find some salvation in S.I.O.S.O.S.
, the debut release from the four-MC, one-vocalist East Coast collective known as Spooks. S.I.O.S.O.S.
is notable for its live instrumentation (with a few judiciously jazzy samples to spice up the mix), but its standout feature is Ming-Xia's soaring vocals, which add a sultry counterpoint to the flamenco styling of "The Mission" and haunting emphasis to the bhangra-tinged "Safe House." The album's weakness lies in the remaining members' uninspired rhyme skills, which fail to match their vocalist's capabilities. Inevitably, Spooks will suffer comparisons to other organic hip-hop outfits, such as the lyrically superior Fugees
or the trippier Morcheeba
. Alongside these groups' best efforts, Spooks' S.I.O.S.O.S. is not classic material, but, as an antidote to today's commercial rap overdose, it is a solid first effort. --Rebecca Levine