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REVIEW: The Foreign Exchange – ‘Authenticity’

13/10/2010

October 12th should have been a date marked on every soul music lovers diary, for that was the day that saw the release of Authenticity, the third album for the Grammy nominated duo, The Foreign Exchange. With two albums under their belt, both of which are hailed as modern classics, the group were always going to have a steep hill to climb if they were going to live up to the extreme hype off the back of 2004’s Connected and 2008’s Leave It All Behind. Well folks it looks like we can all breath a sigh of relief as Nicolay and Phonte have released another certified classic that will surely be regarded as one of, if not the, best release of 2010.

When Leave It All Behind was released, there was much head-scratching going on in hip-hop and soul music circles. Here we had a a well known hip-hop producer, and one of this generations premier MCs releasing what is generally considered a ‘soul/RnB’ album. It seemed that Phonte had switched spitting for singing, and Nicolay had given his hard-hitting hip-hop beats a more mellow, soulful makeover. It wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but the general consensus was that the duo had taken a giant step forward in their musical story. I don’t think Authenticity will generate quite so much controversy, as the group have stuck firmly in the soul/RnB lane, however this is certainly not Leave It All Behind Part 2.

Whereas LIAB carried some of the hip-hop vibe over from Connected, Authenticity is almost devoid of it. Instead Nicolay has pared down his productions, giving a sparser, yet equally beautiful soundscape, over which Phonte lays some of the most honest, blunt and sometimes brutal ruminations on love one will heasr this year. Whereas LIAB was a relatively ‘bright’ album, celebrating the many facets of love, Authenticity takes a much darker turn, dealing with the loss of love, the death of relationships, and, in the case of ‘The Last Fall’ the loss of hope. Nicolay’s production is, in a word, masterful. Recalling some of the best 80s elctronica and soul (think Prince), many would have been happy enough if this had simply been an album of instrumentals. I find with all of Nicolay’s productions, but particularly those under the guise of The Foreign Exchange, he is able to convey a level of emotion and storytelling that is all too often absent.

One of the biggest leaps forward on this album comes in the form of Phonte’s singing and in particular songwriting. As previously mentioned, until the release of LIAB many regarded Phonte as a rapper/MC (even though he had taken the odd foray in to singing as part of Little Brother and the duo Zo! & Tigallo), so to hear him sing was a shock to some. He managed to hold his own amongst a host of talented collaborators on LIAB, but Authenticity sees him taking more of a solo role in the proceedings, tackling 7 of the 11 tracks alone. Of course this wouldn’t be a Foreign Exchange album without appearances by extended family memebers YahZarah and Darien Brockington (as well as Median, Chantae Cann and Jesse Boykins III), but it is Phonte who stands out with tracks such as the haunting opener ‘The Last Fall’ and the Zo!-assisted ‘Fight For Love’. The songwriting is definitely some of the best this year of the last couple of years, with Phonte peeling back the emotional layers unabashedly, revealing an inner turmoil at the course a relationship his taken. I don’t know whether these songs are based on real experience(s) or not, but it’s hard to imagine someone so expertly conveying emotions they have never themselves dealt with on some level.

Usually at this point I would begin to single out favourite tracks but it is an almost impossible feat. Authenticity is an album that needs to be listened to as a whole rather than sampling tracks here and there. It is a concept album in it’s simplest, most straightforward form, a story. I can’t see anyone who liked LIAB not liking this album, although there will certainly be comparisons made, and people will have their favourite. Personally, I find it difficult to choose as the two albums are very different, and depending on what I wanted from the music at a given time would determine which I chose.

If you are looking for the perfect musical accompaniment as we segue into Autumn then look no further. Authenticity, in all it’s emotionally strained, heavy-hearted glory will carry you right through to those first days of spring.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. damusicalpoet permalink
    16/10/2010 2:34 am

    Great review! I agree with your comment on it being a complete album. No way to highlight specific songs. Love what you do over here.

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