Maybe it was all a part of the grand scheme, or maybe as the album campaign slogan states, it was just Nicolay and Phonte saying in tune to their own lives and “keeping the beat.” The consistent theme in the Foreign Exchange’s album concepts has been personal relationships. I am one to go on a limb and present the thesis that a relationship maybe has played out over the course of all four of their album covers: Lovers finding each other (Connected), solidifying their commitment (Leave It All Behind), followed by downfall and heartbreak (Authenticity), and now out of the dark clouds presents a brighter and optimistic future.
Maybe I’m reaching here, but the content and vibe of the music sure supports my argument. +FE’s last full length outing, 2010’s Authenticity, saw Phonte pouring out his heart over a love gone wrong with brutally honest songwriting over Nicolay’s stripped down production. It was gut- wrenching blues dipped in new age electronic soul. But for every end, there is a new beginning. Anyone that has experienced a painful break up before will tell you there are fewer feelings in life better than to be at peace with your past, healed of your wounds, and be open to love again. That is the theme the once cross-continental duo is presenting on their 4th LP, Love In Flying Colors: It is time to go out, smile, and have a little fun again.
For anyone familiar with the concept of synesthesia, the album’s title is incredibly appropriate. LIFC is full of bright melodies, gorgeous harmonies, and snappy drums that make this the most stereo system-ready entrée yet in the +FE catalog. In short, this is feel good, grown folks music. Accompanied by a free-wheeling flute and saxophone, Nicolay’s keyboard work on the opener “If I Knew Then” channels the jazz fusion styling of Herbie Hancock and Return To Forever. Phonte and guest vocalist Carmen Rodgers clear the listener for takeoff out the gate, with a declaration of “feels so good love’s flying high.”
Every +FE album has had that one sure-fire, two-step winner. Connected had “Nic’s Groove.” For Leave It All Behind, it was “Take Off The Blues.” On Authenticity, it was the lead single “Maybe She Will Dream Of Me.” Frequent +FE Music collaborator and touring vocalist Sy Smith helped cook up would could be dance floor burner of LIFC with the 80s funk vibe of “Right After Midnight,” especially when it gets the spoken bridge telling people “that the party don’t stop.” The borderline Latin grand piano loop and occasional trumpet appearance on “Better” gives Phonte, with Shana Tucker and Eric Roberson, the plateau of expressing the finding of a better suited lover.
With a co-production contribution by Zo!, “Listen To The Rain” is Nic and Tay pushing into new territory. Beautifully conducted strings melt with bare acoustic guitar work and finger snaps to let Phonte’s vocals breathe in a way never heard before on any of his past work. But the magic of this standout track kicks in at the 2 minute mark when the drums drop in to interact with full orchestra and acoustic guitar to create a silky groove made for reflection during a long drive. Its warped Moog tempo attack outro swiftly moves into the drum and bass bounce of LIFC’s first single, “Call It Home,” and one of the most thought-provoking stanzas of the entire album: “Do we live, do we learn, or just die under the weight of our dreams?”
While “Right After Midnight” may be the two-step jam of LIFC, the title for fan favorite album cut possibly could go to the housequake known as “The Moment.” Building off the sonics found on The Reworks gem, “So What If It Is,” “The Moment” is atmospheric Rhodes and synth pads combined with a dirty digital bass line that would make 90s Chicago house enthusiasts proud. Even the lyrics about finding real authentic love are reminiscent of the Robin S. classic, “Show Me Love,” which is not a negative quality at all. It is actually a reminder of dance music’s roots post this pop culture EDM explosion.
The slick drum transition from “Moment” into the Gwen Bunn-assisted “Can’t Turn Around” pulls the album back into fusion jazz territory with a hint of bossa nova, while the steppers could have a field day with “Dreams Are Made For Two” featuring another long-time familiar +FE Music collaborator, Carlitta Durand. Plus, anytime Phonte decides lay down a verse of rhymes, as he also does on “Better,” is always a pleasant occurrence. LIFC’s closer, “When I Feel Love,” sees Phonte reaching the light at the end of the tunnel (“I never thought that I would find my sunny day, my paradise/You are a dream that’s realized”), as Jeanne Jolly “connects” the love full circle again during the chorus (“When I feel love, two hearts that beat in time/When I feel love, I need your body next to mine”).
Priding themselves as “never being the same band twice” with each album cycle, Nicolay and Phonte continue to hit their stride with each release, pushing themselves into territories unknown and consistently knocking it out the ball park. Not many groups can pull that off and continue to build longevity. That is the ultimate sign that The Foreign Exchange will not be leaving anytime soon and have so much more “love” to give. Yes, we are feeling the love with Love In Flying Colors, and we do not want to come down any time soon.
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 HFPuniversity.blogspot.com and follow Chuck on Twitter @thEoLdSouLHFP. Soul Claps and Salutes to you all.