Tim Holland, otherwise known as Sole, publicly split with anticon, the hip-hop collective he helped create, last year. “This is not the future we were promised,” Sole spits early on his new record, Hello Cruel World, and it’s easy if maybe not accurate to read such a sentiment, and others like it, as his feelings toward the label he helped make a name. Hello is Sole’s third record with Orlando three-piece the Skyrider Band, and with each subsequent release Holland has sounded more rejuvenated. Now, free from any label affiliations, Sole explores every square foot of his newly open spaces. Hello Cruel World is a vital sounding statement that recalls both the brutal honesty of Sage Francis’ Personal Journals and the dreamy impressionism of cLOUDDEAD’s self-titled debut, a pair of towering documents from Sole’s former label.
Some of the vitality surely has to do with the collaborators working on Cruel World. The opening track “Napolean” features members of art-slash-noise-slash-pop weirdos Xiu Xiu, which makes more sense than may initially seem, especially when Sole spits a laconic, razor-edged slow motion verse over the slow burn synths that Xiu Xiu specialize in. “Bad Captain Swag” has seen its share of hype for featuring both Denver DJ Pictureplane and the Based God himself, Lil B. On record, the track lives up to every bit of positive press, as both MCs ooze insightful invective at the music industry, pop culture, society over a blown out, blunted beat. Later, Sole hooks up with contemporary Sage Francis on “Progress Trap”, and while it’s more calculated than their freestyle battle back on Sage’s Life is Easy DVD, it’s no less effective.
But the real stars here are the Skyrider Band. At every turn, they’ve infused Hello Cruel World with an otherworldly strangeness and some well-paced structure to allow Sole to explore a variety of styles, which he does with energetic aplomb. “Formal Designation 134340” blends flutes and harps and bells with a workman rhythm and Sole turns in an almost Drake-like performance over it. He also brutalizes the Eurotrash club beat of “Possimism”, as anyone who listens to Top 40 radio would like to do. And “DIY” is as anxiously dramatic as any movie soundtrack, and it allows Sole to blow up his industry indictment to widescreen proportions. It’s been awhile since anyone associated even formerly with anticon has sounded this raw doing straight hip-hop music, but with his backing band coming into their own and a host of excellent collaborators, Sole has been energized into making one of the finest records of his career.