The Foreign Exchange's "Authenticity" smacks fantasy with reality
Stephon Johnson | 4/12/2011, 5:29 p.m.
It's one thing for musicians to change their sound gradually and still remain uniquely them. It's another thing altogether to jump ship from album to album and still maintain a sound that belongs to you. The Foreign Exchange (which consists of singer/rapper/songwriter Phonte and producer/musician/arranger Nicolay) has done exactly that. Starting with 2004's firmly rooted in hip-hop Connected, moving to 2008's modern-day classic R&B sound on Leave It All Behind and ending with their new release, Authenticity, the duo have once again changed their sound and created another successful work of art.
Throwing in bits of 1980's pop, jazz and rock elements with the unique R&B sound that Nicolay has cornered the market on, Authenticity could easily be considered 2010's "Here, My Dear."
The title track echoes the epic sound of Prince's Purple Rain in the beginning, but ends leaving Phonte resigned to the fact that his woman doesn't really want him to tell the truth about his feelings and prefers the lies. "She's all I could ever dream/But she just tears me apart," sings Phonte during the chorus.
From track to track, the sound of Authenticity sounds like a relationship on the rocks and heading downhill in reverse. "The Last Fall" opens the album with Phonte crooning that he doesn't to "ever fall in love again" and ends with guest vocalist Yahzarah contemplating whether or not she was ever in love with her significant other in the first place on "This City Ain't The Same Without You." In between, the ups and downs leading to the breakup are experienced. The hopefulness of the first single "Maybe She'll Dream of Me" followed by the track "Don't Wait" featuring Darien Brockington, remind the listener of those moments during decay where a couple thinks their relationship might work out and what they're experiencing is just a bump in the road.
Nicolay, production wise, learned a lot from his sessions creating last year's solo album City Lights, Vol. 2: Shibuya. Along with the aforementioned pop, rock and jazz elements, he throws in bits of electro as well to keep the listener off-guard, but still on track with synthesizer-filled songs like "Don't Wait" and "Make Me Fool" featuring Jesse Boykins III and Median. The duo even manage to go acoustic with "Everything Must Go" and "Laughing At Your Plans" proving that there's nothing within these musicians grabs that they can perfect with aplomb.
Clocking in at 38 minutes, Phonte and Nicolay (aka the 21st Century indie version of The System) have created an album that many have tried their entire careers to make. By questioning the genuineness of romantic relationships (some may call it cynicism), Phonte and Nicolay have made the personal universal. Quite an accomplishment.