The Foreign Exchange – Authenticity – Review

29 10 2010

Authenticity is a tightly crafted collection of atmospheric electro-soul and pop that could well see Nicolay and Phonte surpass their earlier Grammy nomination. It’s a brave record, short and to the point, both lyrically and musically. I’m reminded of the writer’s maxim: edit, edit and edit again! There’s not an ounce of fat on Authenticity, each track is delivered succinctly, right from the heart of the matter. It’s a welcome antidote to the usual bloated R&B from across the pond.

The album’s overarching soundscape expands on the music Nicolay explored on his Shibuya release, marrying it exquistely to Phonte’s songwriting to produce a soul album that defies the critic’s usual sophistic genre classifications. For music lovers, that’s certainly worth a round of applause.

The Last Fall is a sombre opener, reminiscent of LIAB’s House of Cards, with Phonte declaring that he’ll never fall in love again. Lyrically captivating, Phonte explores the disappointments of love on Authenticity. It’s an approach that certainly distances him from the usual juvenile preoccupations of the modern R&B singer (R Kelly’s Bangin the Headboard, anyone? No, I thought not.) but perhaps leaves those with sunnier dispositions pining for Percy Miracles…

Authenticity’s title track turns up the darkness calling to mind a sombre Michael Mann midnight scene, our hero (Phonte) cruising the wet city streets, a chopper between his legs, pink neon reflected in the puddles, alone with his demons. Some of the music on Authenticity truly feels cinematic. It’s surely only a matter of time before Hollywood comes knocking. Although on this evidence, it’s unlikely to be Disney.

Eyes To The Sky is a short, but compelling, melancholic little twist of a cut on which Phonte bares his soul. At a minute and a half it’s woefully short. There’s undoubtedly the germ of a greater song there, but all is forgiven as the track segues into the Pat Metheny Group vibe of the standout cut, All Roads, a melodic pop-jazz excursion that, with the right support, could break Foreign Exchange into a whole different league.

Fight for Love continues in a similar vein, Zo!’s warm keyboard work providing a foil to Phonte’s melancholic delivery and lyrics with an astral synth solo.

The next three cuts move into more familiar territory, each of them capturing that beloved LIAB vibe. We’ve posted our love for Maybe She’ll Dream of Me previously, but it still stands out as one of the strongest cuts on the album, that devastatingly simple synth and piano outro thick with emotion. Don’t Wait features FE alumni R&B singer, Darien Brockington on a much bouncier groove which wouldn’t sound out of place on YahZarah’s excellent Ballad of Purple St. James. Make Me a Fool delights, with indie darling Jesse Boykins III and rapper Median on a crisp cut worthy of multiple rewinds.

Everything Must Go kicks off with a synth groove right out of Zombie Flesh Eaters before moving into an electro-acoustic folk cut reminiscent of Terry Callier’s most fulfilling work. As with the aforementioned Eyes to the Sky, I’d love to hear a much longer version of this track.

Laughing At Your Plans, with Chantae Cann, kicks a little differently with some nice country flourishes and a James Taylor feel. It’s the kind of cut you’d maybe expect to hear on a Lizz Wright or Norah Jones album, perhaps hinting at a sound FE may explore going forward. It ably illustrates that, despite having harnessed a successful musical formula, Phonte and Nicolay are still eager to experiment; they haven’t fallen into a comfortable groove.

This City Ain’t The Same is a beautiful pop song featuring YahZarah on lead vocals. It’s a perfect close to the album, her sweet tones paradoxically both a neat contrast to Phonte’s darker delivery and an echo of the songs that have come before it.

Authenticity amply lives up to the high expectations created by previous Foreign Exchange releases. It’s easy to forget that it’s only the group’s third release, given how highly revered they are on the indie soul scene. When you consider how much Nic and Phonte’s music has developed over the course of those three albums, Authenticity is nothing short of outstanding.

Buy Authenticity at the Foreign Exchange Music Store.

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New SoulCut of the Week – Foreign Exchange – Maybe She’ll Dream of Me

6 09 2010

We’re pretty much in love with the whole Foreign Exchange clique over here at SoulCuts and cannot wait until October and their third album, Authenticity. Ramping up the hype for the upcoming release, Phonte and Nicolay launched the first move in their assault last week, leaking the new single, Maybe She’ll Dream of Me to the interwebs. Fans of Leave It All Behind will be chuffed to bits with this new cut that combines Phonte’s singing and rapping to dope effect. The production snaps crisp like a fresh bag of roof-of-the-mouth scarring Kettle Chips, with some nicely funky off-kilter programming and synth work underpinning Phonte’s tale of aspirational love that ends with Zo! floating in like some super-hero keyboard cat on the devastatingly simple piano outro. It’s a confident and sophisticated cut that augers well for Authenticity.



Take a listen to the tune right here and then whizz off to FE’s own site to download Maybe She’ll Dream Of Me. You know it makes sense!





Zo! Damn Good! – SunStorm Review

26 07 2010


For his Summer 2010 release, SunStorm, Zo! has set quality control to Pixar levels, delivering a consistently brilliant album on which each and every cut demands repeated play. It’s a unified producer’s album from an artist with an educated soul sensibility and the desire to make contemporary music, rather than yet another tired exercise in retro.

And it’s certainly not just another Foreign Exchange album under a different name, not that I’d be complaining! The album may kick off with an FE soundalike in the Phonte starring Greater Than The Sun, but this feels like an entry-point for those unfamiliar with Zo!’s previous solo work who may have purchased the album through that Foreign Exchange connection. It’s a great introduction to SunStorm and a damn fine track to boot but it gives way to an album that is altogether more musically soulful and jazzy than the equally awesome Leave it All Behind.

It’s rare that an album with so many guest vocalists plays like a solo album, but SunStorm achieves this. As producer, instrumentalist (the keyboard playing is just fire!) and writer, Zo!’s musical personality is deep in each and every tune on the 12-track album. Cream cuts include the jazz-funk of the Mizell Brothers tribute, Flight of the Blackbyrd, the rare-groove of Greatest Weapon of All Time (with the irrepressible Sy Smith), the deliciously stretched out jazzy bedroom goodness of MakeLuv2Me (with one of the best vocal performances on the album from Monica Blaire), the 4hero sounding Free Your Mind (with Lady Alma on vocals) and the future-soul meets vintage Bobbi Humphrey of Say How You Feel / For Leslie. But it’s all good. Very good.

SunStorm is a 2010 love note to classic soul and jazz funk which warrants comparisons with legends like Roy Ayers and Quincy Jones for its ability to convey a singular musical vision despite an extensive (and impressive) cast list. It’s an album you NEED in your collection and one we’ll be talking about as a candidate for 2010’s best come December.

You can buy downloads and CDs at the Foreign Exchange Music Store. Tell ’em SoulCuts sent ya! Spread the love!

And take a listen to the whole album right HERE!