Beyond soul

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It’s a familiar formula — soulful diva with guy rapper backed by a DJ. C&C Music Factory used it. The Fugees used it. Heck — even the Sugarcubes was an alternative rock version of the same set-up. (Sort of.)

So too do m-flo.

On its cosmically-themed debut album, Planet Shining, m-flo takes a number of influences from seemingly disparate sources to create a form of R&B and hip-hop at once familiar and new.

Make no mistake — this album is R&B through and through, but at the same time, there’s a sensibility to m-flo’s music that goes beyond deep soul.

On “Ten Below Blazing,” a drum ‘n’ bass beat drives singer Lisa’s multi-layered chorus. “Come Back to Me” includes a space age arpeggio more akin to Deee-Lite than to Lauryn Hill. And “Hands” contains a piano hook that could have been lifted from a Steve Reich composition.

And while all these little sonic flourishes add up to an impressive overall sound, Planet Shining still relies on great hooks to anchor the group’s music.

“Come Back to Me” is without a doubt the most infectous ballad to grace a pair of stereo speakers. “L.O.T. [Love or Truth]” has a chorus that makes you wish you could speak Japanese.

The only moment where Planet Shining falls flat is on “Interlude Three.” Until then, the aircraft-themed interludes were mostly non-obtrusive, if not midly entertaining. But here, three rappers attempt to create an in-house radio show — for four minutes.

If you’re not listening too closely, “Interlude Three” can be quite annoying, although there are moments when the Ebonics-inflected Japanese banter is quite amusing.

In all, Planet Shining is an impressive debut from a group with a very keen sense of itself.