Album Review: The Foreign Exchange ‘+FE Music: The Reworks’

+FE Music, The Reworks Album CoverExpect the unexpected. Take all pre-conceived notions, throw them right out the window, and dive head-first into a world of sound containing no genre, definition, or boundary. This is what fans of Nicolay Rook and Phonte Coleman, together known as The Foreign Exchange, have come to love and respect. Since the Grammy-nominated duo’s 2004 cross-continental created debut album Connected, Nicolay and Phonte have continued to surprise and challenge listeners with cross-genre albums of hip-hop, soul, electronica, jazz, and even borderline, stripped down blues and folk.

More so, this anything goes, “throw everything and the kitchen sink” mentality of creation has manifested beyond the group itself into a curated music collective that has housed releases by past and present +FE Music collaborators such as YahZarah, Darien Brockington, Carlitta Durand, Sy Smith, Jeanne Jolly, The Hot At Nights, Median, and Zo! It is this catalog of collaborations, solo endeavors, and group efforts that make up the source material for the double disk remix album, +FE Music: The Reworks.

The beauty of this album musically is its dense, extended arrangements, giving room to fully realized solos and bridges that take each song on its own journey. This is music that cannot be skimmed over or appreciated just off of one listen; these are deep grooves that are easy to become lost in with each listen. This is ever apparent on the album’s opener and lead single, “So What If It Is,” one of three brand new studio tracks including “Love Songs” featuring Phonte, producer Focus…, and Sy Smith, and the Prince-influenced, Linn drum jam standout, “Don’t Let It Be So.”

Starting out as a beautiful symphony companied by flutes, “So What” builds up like a roller coaster, only to stop at the top of the hill by sharp grand piano stabs, then takes the plunge transforming into an eight and half minute Soul Clap House dance floor burner.  Lyrically, the song finds Phonte encouraging listeners during these difficult social and economic times to “raise your voice and lift your hands, show your love to every woman every man,” not to “worry about the pain of yesterday” and “just remember to live.”

While Nicolay himself produced the bulk of The Reworks (including remixes of non-+FE music tracks “Say It” by Deborah Bond, Philadelphia producer and DJ Vikter Duplaix’s “Electric Love,” and RJD2 & Kenna’s “Games You Can Win”), the album features contributions from both well-known and rising producers.

This cast of musicians and beatsmiths is comprised of the aforementioned Focus…(producing an industrial/dubstep-influenced remix of the Authenticity opener “The Last Fall”), The Randy Watson Experience (a production team of The Roots members ?uestlove and James Poyser, crafting  a gorgeous  bossa nova rendition of the Stevie Wonder cover, “If She Breaks Your Heart” from Leave It All Behind),   Ahmed Sirour (constructing a vibrant Caribbean style remix of “All The Kisses”  from the Dear Friends live album, complete with steel and djembe drums, rattles, and a swinging brass bridge), and Sheldon Williams (designing an afterhours syrupy remix of “Ball And Chain” from Phonte’s 2011 solo album, Charity Starts At Home).

Other contributors include Tall Black Guy (producing a two-step worthy remix of “This Could Be The Night” from Zo!’s 2010 album Sunstorm), Pure P (pulling double duty transforming both the originally mid-tempo “Maybe She’ll Dream of Me” and “All Or Nothing” into party starter ready tracks), 4hero (creating a free flowing jazz, Earth, Wind, and Fire “Brazilian rhyme”-influenced remix of Zo!’s “Flight Of The Blackbyrd”), Pirahnahead (bringing an electronica night grooves feel complete with dancing flutes and string synths on Zo!’s “All Is Well With Love”), and +FE Music’s own Zo! (flipping Phonte’s “Gonna Be A Beautiful Night” into a guitar and Fender Rhodes driven 1970s soul remix).

The Reworks serves as both an affirmation for long time fans and a nice introductory overview of the +FE Music catalog for new listeners.  With each new release, they have solidified that anytime an album bears the +FE Music logo, quality music that is made and felt from the soul will be broadcasted through your speakers. If The Reworks is an indicator of the direction for their forthcoming fourth studio album, Love In Flying Colors, scheduled for release this coming fall, then get ready for The Foreign Exchange to once again take the book they have previously written of themselves, and throw it out the window in the name of reinvention, progression, and just plain ole good music. “Thank You For Listening.”

–Chuck Nunley

Chuck Nunley (also known as DJ Chuck “thE oLd SouL”) is a Los Angeles, California homegrown DJ/Producer/Artist, and Owner & Director of Operations of the music collective, Honor Flow Productions. Please check out the sights and sounds of H.F.P. at and follow Chuck on Twitter @thEoLdSouLHFP . Soul Claps and Salutes to you all.

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